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Division of Informatics Created within the UAB Pathology Department

Posted Jul 26 2012 12:00am

Many pathology departments have a division of pathology informatics embedded within it. Such units are always assigned responsibility for managing the LIS and also, logically, all of the data generated within the department. Many medical schools have also established separate departments of biomedical informatics. These latter units always have an informatics research mission but sometimes also have responsibility for clinical systems and clinical data management in the associated medical center. A number of departments of biomedical informatics such as that at the University of Pittsburgh have pathologist chairs like Mike Becich. I have just learned about another model -- a division of pathology informatics/bioinformatics embedded within a pathology department (see: UAB Division of Informatics to manage medical research data ). Below is an excerpt from an article describing one such organizational structure:

[Jonas] Almeida is a recent addition to the University of Alabama at Birmingham medical center, recruited away from the prestigious University of Texas-MD Anderson Cancer Center... to launch a newly formed Division of Informatics in the med school's pathology department.  At MD Anderson as a professor of bioinformatics, Almeida was deeply involved in the Cancer Genome Atlas , a shared site for cancer data started with the help of National Cancer Institute funding in 2006.....An effort like the Atlas, Almeida said, takes advantage of "the cloud" -- a web-based set of programs and standardized data formats that allows researchers to build interactive masses of data....At UAB, the Portuguese-born Almeida has hired five faculty and now has about 15 researchers and staff in the informatics division.  UAB pathology chairman Dr. Kevin Roth was the key to luring Almeida to UAB.  "He offered me something that is special -- a strategic vision about the future," Almeida said. "He sees biostatistics and bioinformatics to be part of the tools of select medical centers."  Almeida gave another example of the potential use of bioinformatics for clinicians -- shared cancer databases in the cloud where oncologists can find answers to questions that could improve patient care.  Such questions, Almeida said, include, "What patients have been seen before that were like the one that I'm seeing? What happened to those patients? What drugs did they respond to?"

Many pathologists have an affinity and skill in managing large research and clinical databases. Such a skill set is particularly important these days given the new importance of the -omics disciplines plus personalized and precision medicine. As noted in the article above, the division of informatics within the UAB's pathology department is no small undertaking with five faculty members and 15 researchers and staff. Needless to say, I am enthusiastic about this model. It can only add to the prestige of those pathology departments that move in a similar direction. Academic pathology departments tend to straddle the basic science/clinical science divide in medical school so I can't think of a better home for a division of bioinformatics/biostatistics.

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