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Campus News

Elkin to lead new Department of Biomedical Informatics

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published May 23, 2013

Peter Elkin

Peter Elkin

Peter L. Elkin, vice president and professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and director of its Center for Biomedical Informatics, has been appointed professor and founding chair of UB’s new Department of Biomedical Informatics, starting this summer.

The announcement brings to 10 the number of new chairs and chair-level appointees recruited by Michael E. Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school, in the past five years.

These national hires, Cain says, are a critical piece of his strategic vision for the medical school’s future.

Over the next five years, UB plans to hire a total of 250 new faculty members across all academic units, 100 of whom will join the medical school. Major New York State investments to this effort have included Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s NYSUNY 2020 bill, a historic piece of higher education legislation signed into law in 2011 that is enabling the university to pursue the next phase of UB 2020.

Biomedical informatics is the interdisciplinary scientific field that studies the use of biomedical data—particularly clinical and genomic data—information and knowledge for scientific inquiry, problem-solving, decision-making and communication.

The new department in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is being established as a result of the “explosive growth” in the field of biomedical informatics over the past decade, according to Cain.

“Biomedical informatics is now essential to the delivery of health care,” says Cain. The new department will play a critical role in UB’s increased emphasis on translational medicine and in strengthening the university’s application for the prestigious National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Award program.

According to Cain, Elkin rapidly emerged as the top candidate following a comprehensive national search, possessing all the skills needed to create a strong foundation for the new department in service of UB’s 2020 strategic goals.

Under Elkin, Cain says, the new department will embark on developing undergraduate and graduate student education and mentored research training programs, as well as a robust research enterprise.

A leader in biomedical informatics, Elkin is renowned for building biomedical common data infrastructure systems and protocols that have transformed research and clinical care; he has created and implemented bioinformatics standards for data storage and exchange.

Elkin has pioneered the development of core methods for standardizing medical record data that can link patient records to genomic, diagnostic and treatment information. One of his best-known advances is the development of methods for fully automated, electronic, quality monitoring aimed at improving the quality and safety of the provision of clinical care. His work has employed natural language-processing methods that can read and understand text dictated or typed into a computer by health care providers, turning the free text into computable, ontological knowledge. He also has developed a medical-search algorithm and other tools for translational research and managing biomedical data.

At Mount Sinai, Elkin created a common data infrastructure as an output to the implementation of Epic electronic health records for the secondary use of clinical data. He was involved at the executive level with the implementation of Epic software for both the outpatient and in-patient environments.

His major research interests include controlled health vocabularies, knowledge representation, natural-language processing, ontologies, information retrieval, human-factors engineering, clinical decision support systems, clinical genomic and translational informatics, and electronic medical records.

Elkin is a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and the American College of Medical Informatics. He has been elected to mastership by the American College of Physicians, an honor shared by only a small number of physicians worldwide. By election to mastership, he joins the ranks of past UB honorees such as Evan Calkins, James P. Nolan and Edward Stehlik. 

Elkin was awarded the Homer R. Warner Award for outstanding contributions to the field of medical informatics. He was the recipient of the first international Master of the Danish Society of Medical Informatics. He also was awarded the Mayo Department of Medicine Laureate Award for dedication to patient care, educational excellence and high standards of personal integrity.

Elkin earned his undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and physics from Union College and his medical degree at New York Medical College. He trained in internal medicine at the Lahey Clinic and was a clinical fellow in medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). He completed a National Institutes of Health-sponsored fellowship in medical informatics at MGH and at Harvard Medical School in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health. At the Mayo Medical School, he served successively as an assistant professor, associate professor and professor in the department of medicine, and held an academic appointment in medical informatics.

UB’s new Department of Biomedical Informatics will advance translational medicine by providing the data infrastructure necessary to perform translational and clinical genomic research more efficiently. This will position UB to more rapidly advance scientific understanding of biomedicine and bring that understanding to the bedside in the form of new, safe and effective treatments for patients.