UB: A world leader in bioinformatics
In May 2002, Carol and I traveled with a group of UB delegates to Beijing, China, to visit three universities with which UB enjoys fruitful partnerships: Beijing Polytechnic University, Capital Normal University and Renmin University. UB has long participated in international academic programs; we have formal exchange agreements with more than 60 universities abroad, and UB’s Alumni Association currently has 12 chapters in other countries. Our trip to Beijing, where we renewed old friendships and met new alumni and colleagues, brought home to us the realization that UB is truly an international university community.
It was a pleasure to share news from Buffalo with our alumni and colleagues in Beijing. Our hosts were interested in learning about the latest developments at UB, especially the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics, which has made rapid progress this past year. The center represents a constellation of UB’s biotechnology and computing strengths, in partnership with Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) and the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI). Our bioinformatics initiatives have a tremendous impact on our regional and state economies, but they ultimately have a much wider sphere of influence: the discoveries achieved through the center will transform health care around the world.
While the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics is a recent development, UB’s involvement with biotechnology research has a long history. In the 1990s, we began to strategically set in place several initiatives that would ensure UB’s leadership in high-tech bioinformatics research. UB’s Center for Computational Research (CCR), which opened in 1999, houses one of the few academic supercomputers in the world capable of interpreting the copious data generated by the Human Genome Project. And, since 2000, UB has been home to the New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation (NYSCEDII), whose visualization and virtual reality facilities enable cutting-edge molecular analysis.
With these biotech resources and research partnerships in place, UB was ready when Governor George E. Pataki announced in his January 2001 State of the State Address plans to create high-technology centers of excellence in New York State. UB immediately rose to the governor’s challenge to provide local support for a bioinformatics center based in Buffalo. Together with RPCI and HWI, our partner institutions, we garnered strong support from regional and international business leaders, as well as local, state and federal governments, for the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics.
In December 2001, Governor Pataki came to campus to announce that—thanks to the outstanding and immediate response from the Buffalo-Niagara region—$50 million in state funds and more than $150 million in private-sector support had been committed for the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics. That same month, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Representative Thomas M. Reynolds held a press conference at UB to announce federal funding in the amount of $3.1 million. In June 2002, the governor announced a boost in state funding for UB to $61 million—as well as multi-million dollar funding from two major local foundations—and the successful recruitment of the highly respected bioinformatics researcher Jeffrey Skolnick to direct the center.
Many people in Western New York, Albany and Washington have contributed greatly to our progress to date. Among the UB family participants in this effort, Betty Capaldi, our provost, and Bruce Holm, our senior vice provost, deserve special recognition, as do Janet Penksa, associate vice provost for government relations, Mike Pietkiewicz, director of federal relations, and the rest of UB’s government relations staff. Though part of a much larger team, they have been star players in this effort.
The rapid progress of our bioinformatics initiatives points to the fact that nations around the globe are moving from an industrial-based economy to one based on information technology. This was vividly illustrated when Carol and I were in Beijing this past spring; we were both impressed by how modern Beijing has become since our last visit 17 years ago.
The world is modernizing more rapidly than ever before, and research universities like UB must and will lead the way, guiding communities around the world through the major economic, technological and cultural changes sure to come in the 21st century.
William R. Greiner