One-of-a-kind PgCert program at PPCU FITB June 12, 2020

Presentation of the Biodata analysis PgCert program by Zoltán GÁSPÁRI, associate professor

A Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert) program, which is quasi-unique in Europe, is launched by the Faculty of Information Technology and Bionics, Pázmány Péter Catholic University in September 2020. The University issues a certificate upon completion of the 2-semester program. A minimum BSc-level knowledge – of molecular bionics background – is required for application. If considered necessary, the university may have exploratory talks with candidates coming from different educational and professional background. The tuition fee of study program is in line with the international price level: 100 EUR/credit, 1,000,000 HUF/semester.

The PgCert program is managed in cooperation with HiDucator Ltd, a Finnish company specialized in online teaching of bioinformatics, says Zoltán Gáspári, associate professor, head of the program. 'HiDucator provides us with technical background and external expertise to carry out the education tasks in a highly professional manner.'

Applicants must have a molecular bionics background, as the knowledge to be acquired builds upon that. As a matter of fact, there are currently several companies as well as research labs in the world that generate and process biological data, and which require experts who can classify, treat and analyze this abundantly available data.

The activities of the study program are carried out by distance teaching (online), its features are probably self-explanatory in the current situation. Therefore, the study program is accessible not only from Hungary, but from anywhere in the world. This is also served by the language of tuition, which is English.

Within the subjects, the students can set their own time schedule. There are no constraints of having to sit in front of the computer in a given timeslot. 'The university sends the syllabus in modules with clearly defined deadlines, within that, the student organizes the pace of studies. In this manner we wish to make full use of the benefits of distance teaching.'

What is the content of the course more in detail? 'The student will get to know the nature and format of data obtained in state-of-the-art molecular biological examinations. This may refer to the DNA sequence, or can be transcriptome (concerning the nucleic acid or the quantity of RNA) and proteomic data (regarding the quantity and nature of protein molecules). Tens of thousands of such pieces of data may be extracted from a single cell, and their comparative study provides a picture of which genes are active in a particular case. When examining a pathology, researchers may approach the differences between healthy and unhealthy cells or tissues with this method, and form a full molecular picture of the effects of specific changes in the functioning of cells.' Students also familiarize themselves with the use of computing and information technology devices necessary for the mentioned examinations.

'Data and conclusions obtained in such way will appear, sometimes within one or two years, in other cases, in a decade's scale, in medical practice. Molecular diagnostic may even now profit from these data analysis methods, when we can say what the particularity of a given patient is, to which special attention should be paid.'

It is indispensable to improve the molecular diagnostic tools, as in many cases, researchers don't even know what they are looking for, what molecular mark requires particular care in case of the patient. 'By relying on a lot of data, we strive to draw a distinction between healthy and sick persons, or cases of different degrees of severity. The proper in-depth data analysis may lead to the mapping of specific derogations.'

Thorough the study program, the lecturers of the courses are at the disposal of students. They may ask for personal consultations, explications and help in processing the course material. 'The student will not be left alone with the online syllabus, they may turn to the teachers anytime: personal interaction facilitates the understanding of the material.' In the second semester, when writing the thesis, the student also collaborates with their supervisor. In the study program, subjects and topics build intrinsically on each other, and as Zoltán Gáspári emphasizes, 'students receive a full program, not just get to know a small section of a stock of knowledge.'

PPCU Communications