Dougherty envisions engineers having impact in theoretical medicine

He says his aim is simple: “Attract engineers into theoretical medicine, where their expertise can improve the human condition.”

The source of that “simple aim” is Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Edward Dougherty, who resides and leads in a technological world that is anything but simple. In addition to his position at Texas A&M, he is also currently director of the Computational Biology Division of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. For several years he was also an adjunct professor in either the Department of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology or the Department of Pathology at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Dougherty’s research focus isPhoto of Dr. Ed Dougherty “genomic signal processing.” He is considered renowned in the field, as underscored by Texas A&M earlier this year awarding him “distinguished professor” designation, an honor based in part on reputations earned via assessments by others who are eminent in the specialized field nationally and internationally.  

“Signal processing has played a major auxiliary role in medicine via the array of technologies available to physicians. Only a rapidly diminishing proportion of the population can recall medicine without computer tomography, magnetic resonance and ultrasound,” Dougherty said in an article published in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, adding that in this capacity, signal processing serves only a supporting function.

It will be different in the future, he said.

“The roles of signal processing and the closely related theories of communication, control and information will play constitutive functions as medicine evolves into a translational science resting on a theoretical framework,” Dougherty said.

It all gets down the tiny world of genes — and regulating them.

“Gene regulatory networks describe the manner in which cells execute and control functioning,” Dougherty said.  “They are central to systems medicine, for which a basic aim is to develop therapies based on the disruption or mitigation of aberrant gene function contributing to the pathology of disease, mitigation being accomplished by the use of drugs to act on gene products.”

To the extent that medicine concerns interventions in biological systems and decisions regarding optimal intervention, its theoretical knowledge must be framed in terms of mathematical models formalizing human knowledge regarding the systems, Dougherty reasons, along with attention given to operations on those models characterizing physical interventions and objective criteria corresponding to the benefits of intervention.

“Given the primary roles of communication and control as distinguishing features of a biological system, as opposed to merely a collection of complex molecules, the mathematical foundations of medicine naturally fall within signal processing and systems theory,” he said, concluding that, thus, various biomedical problems fit into classical engineering paradigms.

About research at Texas A&M University
As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $700 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.