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Oishei Foundation Grant Expands Bioinformatics Hub at UB

Funding to support new hires, addressing critical skills gap in region

Release Date: July 7, 2011

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A generous grant from the Oishei Foundation will help UB bring new researchers to Buffalo Niagara.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A major grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation will help the University at Buffalo's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences expand its bioinformatics and computational biology expertise on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) downtown.

The foundation funding, totaling $850,000 over two years, will help fund new tenure-track faculty members and computational support staff in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. These researchers will have offices and laboratory space at the Center of Excellence, which houses the university's core supercomputing and genomics facilities, both of which have benefited from significant upgrades since 2010.

The growth of the bioinformatics hub complements UB's plan to relocate the medical school to the BNMC, a move that will bring students and faculty closer to research and clinical partners such as Kaleida Health.

"This generous support from the Oishei Foundation helps to advance the objectives of the UB 2020 plan for academic excellence," said Michael Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "The expansion of the bioinformatics hub will contribute to a vibrant medical campus, and improve Western New York's ability to conduct translational research, moving scientific discoveries from laboratories to practical applications to improve human health."

"The Center of Excellence has done an outstanding job securing the resources necessary to build and equip a state-of-the-art facility, and we're pleased to support the key academic professionals needed to staff it," said Robert D. Gioia, president of the Oishei Foundation. "We fully expect that this support will enable the Center of Excellence to retain computational work that was being sent elsewhere, and to build a core of local projects, further expanding the promise of the BNMC."

The new recruits the Oishei Foundation is helping to fund will be experts in computational biology and bioinformatics, a field that combines computer science and biology to better understand disease mechanisms, resulting in new diagnostic tests and patient treatments.

Their research, combined with the ongoing work of UB's Department of Biostatistics, will provide valuable expertise to a variety of researchers and companies in the Buffalo area.

As UB's research capacity in bioinformatics grows, area scientists and firms will continue to partner with the university on projects that will fuel growth of the region's life sciences industry. Expanding the university's capabilities will also position Buffalo Niagara to mine and analyze data for collaborators around the country and world with the goal of explaining how given sets of genes or proteins are involved in disease.

"This expertise is critical to our efforts to understand human disease at its most basic, molecular level," said Norma Nowak, director of science and technology at the Center of Excellence and a UB faculty member. "It enables us to diagnose and define disease by the causative molecular alterations that lead to the symptoms traditionally utilized to make a diagnosis.

"It is a vital piece of the puzzle that the university -- through both the Center of Excellence and the new Clinical and Translational Research Center under construction in downtown Buffalo -- is working to assemble with partners including Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and the region's life sciences industry," added Nowak, who led efforts to apply for the Oishei Foundation grant.

A stronger bioinformatics hub will help attract additional talent to Buffalo Niagara, creating opportunities for students to engage in cutting-edge science, and supporting life sciences recruitment, professional development and the implementation of large, multi-institution research projects.

The Oishei funding complements recent upgrades to UB's core supercomputing and genomics facilities. Last year, the Center for Computational Research (CCR) underwent a more than $9 million expansion that allowed the facility to more than quadruple the power of data processing, to 60 to 70 teraflops, and increase electronic memory by more than 20 times, to 600 terabytes of storage capacity.

Additions included the installation of novel computing architectures that enable both data-driven science and computationally demanding modeling and simulation. Money for the improvements came from competitive grants that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority awarded to UB faculty.

More recently, the Center of Excellence's Next-Generation Sequencing and Expression Analysis Core Facility acquired an important new piece of equipment: An illumina HiSeq 2000, an instrument so powerful it can sequence a human genome in a week.

The $700,000 HiSeq instrument, which arrived in January, can facilitate projects including whole-genome and candidate region sequencing, transcriptome analysis, small RNA discovery, methylation profiling, and protein-nucleic acid interaction analysis on a genome-wide scale. A grant from the National Center for Research Resources at the NIH funded the HiSeq purchase.

The John R. Oishei Foundation strives to be a catalyst for change to enhance economic vitality and the quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region. The foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corporation.

Researchers at UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences study human disease to develop diagnostic tools and therapeutic interventions, preventative treatments, and other disease management devices and processes that improve health and well-being. The center's scientific mission goes hand in hand with its charge to drive economic development in Buffalo Niagara and beyond, while facilitating partnerships among government, academia and industry.

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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