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BU creates first MS in biomedical anthropology


As SARS and other new diseases cross geographical boundaries with increasing rapidity, the need for Binghamton University’s new master of science in biomedical anthropology becomes ever more apparent.

The program, the first of its kind in the world, will offer a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the transmission and spread of infections, cellular and molecular mechanisms of disease, and the interaction of biological and socio-cultural factors that shape health outcomes.

The 43-credit program, which requires an internship and a laboratory practicum, will admit 24 full-time and six part-time students from disciplines as diverse as nursing, anthropology, psychology, social work, biology and other health-related fields next fall.

SUNY certified the program last fall. “The degree program was in response to a University-wide call for proposals for applied, integrated master’s-level programs that satisfy growing employment opportunities locally, statewide, nationally and internationally,” said Ralph Garruto, research professor of anthropology and neuroscience, who oversees the program.

Binghamton’s timing could not have been better. In the late 1990s, the National Academy of Sciences, and later the National Science Foundation, urged that graduate student training be strengthened to meet the needs of a modern and developing world. As a result, the NSF implemented its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training.

Although BU’s program in biomedical anthropology is not part of the NSF initiative, it is built upon that concept.

“Biomedical anthropology represents the interface between medicine and the behavioral and social sciences,” said Garruto. “It is set up to give broad-based training across disciplinary boundaries, the interface between anthropology and biomedicine, bringing everything into a single academic framework.”

Although biomedical anthropology is a specialization of biological anthropology, Garruto said students can specialize even further by taking electives in subjects such as evolutionary medicine, genetics, human growth and development, population dynamics and rural health.

Nine research facilities within BU will give students a broad spectrum of specialized, hands-on training. Within those are laboratories for forensic anthropology, forensic DNA identification, and paleoanthropology and skeletal biology.

Just as the professors come from several disciplines, so do the learning opportunities.

“One of the newest developments is a proposed clinical research core which would be shared by bioengineering, anthropology and nursing,” said Garruto. “The core laboratories and clinical exam rooms will allow students in-depth, hands-on research and training across the lifespan in such areas as child growth and development, bone studies such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (with Ken McLeod of bioengineering), hypertension, cardiovascular disease and lifestyle research (with Gary James of nursing), as well as issues relevant to women’s health, rural health and migrant health.”

Garruto said with the recent arrival of Professor J. Koji Lum, biomedical anthropology will soon gain both a molecular anthropology program and a forensic DNA identification lab. “We want to gear the students in the program to become versatile professionals and, on completion of their program, have a tool kit that will allow them to move in a number of different employment directions,” Garruto said.

Employment opportunities are likely to be with the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, OSHA, N.Y. Center for Agricultural and Occupational Health, Peace Corps, World Bank and institutions such as hospitals, county health departments, aging centers and coroners’ offices.

Top faculty ready to kick off program

Behind the hands-on aspect of the MS in biomedical anthropology degree is an all-star lineup of the best faculty from across several disciplines. Joining Ralph Garruto, whose specialties include disease and aging, are:

Michael M. Horowitz, professor of anthropology, whose research includes sociocultural, medical and developmental anthropology

Gary D. James, research professor of nursing and of anthropology, adjunct professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Primary and Preventative Health Care

Michael A. Little, distinguished professor of anthropology, whose studies of envi- ronmental biology, growth, reproduction and adaptability have taken him through the Andes and East Africa

J. Koji Lum, associate professor of anthropology, recently hired by BU, who researches molecular anthropology, forensic genetics and malaria

D. Andrew Merriwether, assistant professor of anthropology, joining the faculty in August as associate professor who studies ancient DNA and the genetics of populations throughout the Americas and the Pacific

John Relethford, adjunct professor of anthropology, who researches the evolu- tion and genetics of modern humans, de- mography and population genetics

G. Philip Rightmire, distinguished professor of anthropology, who has traveled throughout Africa studying paleoanthro- pology, human evolution and skeletal biology

Dawnie Wolfe Steadman, assistant professor of anthropology, a skeletal biologist who specializes in forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology and paleopathology

David Sloan Wilson, professor of anthropology and biological sciences, who researches genetics and culture, evolution and integration of biology and the human social sciences.


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BU creates first MS in biomedical anthropology


Please submit the news items, events to:

Susan E. Barker
Director of Research Advancements and Communications,

Ingrid Husisian | Binghamton University
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