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Buffalo to Host Major International Conference on Biomedical Ontology in July

Will look at new ways to create, manage and disseminate biomedical information

Release Date: June 4, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Whether and how medical personnel and their digital systems can talk to one another in a meaningful way is a subject pertinent to the health of patients about whom they "converse."

Internationally recognized ontologist Barry Smith, Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Professor and Julian Park Professor of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo, points out, however, that these electronic systems frequently do not employ the same ontology -- or system of meaning -- which results in harmful, and even fatal, consequences for patients.

This problem will be addressed by a vast array of philosophers, biomedical researchers and informatics scientists July 24-26 at what Smith calls "one of the most important meetings on this subject in years": the International Conference on Biomedical Ontology (ICBO), hosted by UB.

Smith, director of the National Center for Ontology Research, was one of the first researchers who aimed to develop a sound medical ontology that would enable various knowledge processing applications to communicate with one another. This requires the definition, organization, visualization and utilization of semantic spaces created from biomedical knowledge processing applications.

Smith will co-chair the conference with Suzanna Lewis, who heads the Berkeley Bioinformatics Open-source Projects group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The conference program can be found at http://icbo.buffalo.edu/Program.pdf. For additional information on the conference, call (716) 645-0160 or email ncor@buffalo.edu.

Smith says the conference will draw biologists, clinicians, informatics specialists and ontologists whose research involves innovative technology and methods that create, disseminate and manage biomedical information in a form that can be processed by machine.

"This subject is becoming a huge phenomenon," he says, "because President Obama wants to invest a great deal in the development and use of electronic medical record systems. A shared ontology is one of the essential ingredients that would permit such programs to work across systems, geographic boundaries and institutions."

In addition to the formal program, pre-conference half-day tutorials and two-day classes will be offered to participants July 20-23. See http://www.bioontology.org/wiki/index.php/ Tutorials_and_Classes; student and early career fellowships are available.

The conference will be sponsored by the UB College of Arts and Sciences; the National Center for Ontological Research (NCOR) headquartered at UB and Stanford University, and the National Center for Biomedical Ontology (NCBO), one of the National Centers for Biomedical Computing supported by the National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research, with generous support from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

In addition to Smith and Lewis, scientists involved in its planning are from Cambridge University, The Jackson Laboratory (Maine), the University of Chicago, Stanford University, Science Commons, the European Bioinformatics Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, the NIH Library of Medicine, Duke University, the University of California San Diego, Berkeley Labs, UB, the University of Washington, the University of Manchester (UK), Charité Hospital (Berlin), the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, Georgetown University, the University of Delaware, the University of Michigan and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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