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UPenn Medical School Establishes Biomedical Informatics Institute

Posted May 03 2013 12:00am

Medical schools are getting much more interested in developing more expertise in the field of bioinformatics. Here's an excerpt from an article about the development of a new bioinformatics center at the UPenn School of Medicine (see:  Big data gets a home at University of Pennsylvania’s medical school ):

University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia has established a dedicated center for biomedical informatics, underscoring the expansion of big data from drug development to population health. The Institute for Biomedical Informatics will focus on improving patient care and the research that goes into personalized medicine, according to a statement from Penn Medicine....The institute will work in partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and some schools at the university including the school of engineering and applied sciences, nursing and as well as veterinary medicine....[The] three associate directors [of the institute] are seasoned experts in one or more of the five domains of biomedical informatics: translational bioinformatics, clinical research informatics, clinical informatics, consumer health informatics and public health informatics.....[One of the directors] said some emerging areas of interest within biomedical informatics are personalized medicine, where diagnosis and treatment is linked to the patient’s genome; social and behavioral medicine, with a focus on reducing health disparities through improving access to quality health information; and telemedicine, where the functionality of healthcare practitioners is extended beyond the traditional clinic or hospital.

According to the article, the new institute will work with a very broad charter in five IT domains: (1) translational bioinformatics; (2) clinical research informatics; (3) clinical informatics (4) consumer health informatics; and (5) public health informatics. In a sense, the reference to translational bioinformatics is redundant. Translational bioinformatics forms a bridge between clinical research and clinical informatics. By stating that these latter two fields will be addressed, the translational component can probably be assumed. The reference to "big data" in the article headline adds little to the narrative -- the term "big data" has rapidly become a cliche.

For me, the most important terms in this article are "personalized medicine" and "drug development." These areas are where the major payoff will come for biomedical informatics institutes at UPenn and elsewhere. These two areas of interest are tightly linked. Genomic analysis of patients and their malignancies is now yielding new and more effective therapy choices. Precision/personalized medicine these days is all about cancer diagnosis and treatment (see: Bespoke (i.e, Customized) Cancer Treatment; Cancer "Cures" and the Media ).

Unstated in the article, but extremely important for these bioinformatics centers, is the role that they will play in the development of the new clinical information systems and software that are required for the storage and analysis of the cancer genomic data and drug selection. There are currently no robust clinical "omics" systems for this purpose. The urgent need for them was described in a previous note (see: Hospital EHRs Inadequate for Big Data; Need for Specialized -Omics Systems ).

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