Published August 8, 2014
The University at Buffalo’s Institute for Healthcare Informatics will play a key role in the new state-funded genome research center — part of a statewide public-private partnership designed to accelerate advances in genomic medicine into clinical care.
The institute will provide secure health care data storage and analytical services to UB researchers as well as industry partners, says Peter Winkelstein, MD, MBA, clinical professor of pediatrics and biomedical informatics and executive director of the institute.
These services will help researchers explore genome-phenome interconnections, linking genetic information to data about the actual health status of people, Winkelstein explains.
Such linkages will provide clues about why people with similar genetic makeups vary in health status and, conversely, why those who are similar in health status have different genomes.
The combination of genetic and electronic health information will open up new research and treatment options, helping to usher in the next wave of medicine, he adds.
Discoveries from the data will aid the development of personalized treatments tailored to each patient. The information also is expected to lead to new tests or genetic markers to identify people at risk and help prevent disease.
Healthcare informatics is just one component of UB’s contribution to the Buffalo genomic research center, funded with $48 million recently approved by Empire State Development.
The center as a whole will provide the infrastructure and expertise to foster a local genomics industry.
In part, the funds will be used to expand capabilities, including genome sequencing storage, at the Center for Computational Research, led by Thomas Furlani, PhD. The supercomputing center is located in and supports UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, another key partner in the genome project.
An additional $57 million in state funds will support an affiliated genome research center in New York City.
The initiative also will harness the expertise of partner institutions and firms throughout the state.
“This exciting new partnership will … put the state in the forefront of this new industry while saving lives and improving public health,” says Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who announced the project in January.
“We want Buffalo and Western New York to be the international center for genomic research and lead the way in revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of serious diseases.”
In part by leveraging UB faculty’s research in the biomedical sciences, the initiative has the potential to lead to breakthrough treatments for a host of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease.
The genome project “is good for UB, the Buffalo area and the nation,” says Winkelstein.
“It is generally accepted that genomic medicine will lead to tremendous health benefits, including better treatments and prevention,” he notes. “This initiative will draw from a great deal of expertise at UB and a close to unique set of infrastructure, positioning our university as a leader in the field.”
In addition, the project will present numerous educational opportunities, probably at all levels of training, he adds.
“There is a tremendous and growing need for expertise in areas such as health care information technology,” he says.
“Today, the needed skills are just not out there, so we will need to grow our own experts to fill jobs both locally and nationwide.”
The state funding for the Buffalo center is part of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion investment designed to spur the Western New York economy.
The genome partnership is expected to create hundreds of new jobs in both Buffalo and New York City, in part by attracting private-sector firms.
These companies will gain access to research and supercomputing resources and, in turn, contribute to the creation of new approaches to personalized medicine, diagnostics and technologies.
Already, four Buffalo companies will benefit: Computer Task Group, AESKU.Diagnostics, Lineagen and Empire Genomics, created by Norma J. Nowak, PhD, professor of biochemistry. A recognized leader in the field of genomics, Nowak also directs science and technology for the Center of Excellence at UB.
The funding builds on prior state support that is allowing UB to expand its biomedical research and supercomputing capabilities, primarily in facilities on the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus near downtown.
The campus is home to the Center of Excellence as well as the UB Clinical and Translational Research Center, where the healthcare informatics institute is located.
In addition, UB’s new School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, scheduled for completion in late 2016, is under construction there.