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DNA helix


BIG breathing new life into Buffalo


Published January 29, 2015

“BIG is setting the stage for unprecedented new approaches to personalized medicine, diagnostics and technologies.”
Thomas Furlani, interim executive director
Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics

In his 2014 State of the State Address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $105 million initiative combining the strengths of UB and the New York Genome Center (NYGC) with a goal of developing upstate New York as a national center for genomic medicine research and jobs. This effort involves companies focused on diagnostics and information technology to help grow the region’s and state’s economies and develop breakthroughs in personalized medicine.

The founding principals of the Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics (BIG) last week offered an update on BIG’s inaugural year, including insight on successful collaborations with industry and how businesses can further engage, and on the institute’s blueprint for breathing new life into Buffalo by transforming medical diagnosis and treatment.

The lecture on Jan. 22 by Thomas Furlani, BIG interim executive director and director of UB’s Center for Computational Research (CCR); Norma Nowak, executive director of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences (CBLS); and Peter Winkelstein, executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Informatics (IHI), launched CBLS’ Commercialization Lecture Series for 2015. More than 100 people attended the BIG lecture, held in the CBLS, 701 Ellicott St. on the Downtown Campus.

The CBLS — one of the five original, statewide centers of excellence — is home to BIG, which oversees the engagement of CCR, CBLS, IHI and other key assets with the NYGC. BIG will provide operational support, facilities and services to aid in research and development, innovation, product development, entrepreneurial support and business development in fields requiring the use of high performance computing, informatics and biomedical research in genomic medicine.

“BIG is one aspect of this collaborative ‘village’ we are building in Buffalo,” Nowak said. “Collaboration with other industries is important for BIG to become integrated within the community and further critical, life-saving research.”

The collaboration is expected to yield nearly 500 jobs within five years. The partnership is already fostering symbiotic relationships among industry partners, UB faculty, other universities and nonprofit organizations such the NYGC to develop marketable, diagnostic, genomic assays for statin induced myopathy, multiple sclerosis and autism spectrum disorder that will guide the treatment strategies for these disorders.

“This initiative is an important step forward for health care research and economic development in our region,” said Winkelstein. “It is exciting to see the effect this partnership will have locally and statewide.”

Of the state’s $105 million investment, BIG will receive $32.5 million in capital dollars and $15 million in working capital and operating funds — which requires a dollar-for-dollar match from the university. The $47.5 million for BIG is coming from the Buffalo Billion; funding for NYGC is coming from another source.

“We are grateful for Gov. Cuomo’s commitment to BIG and his recognition of UB as a driving force in life sciences research, supercomputing and medical information analysis,” Furlani said. “BIG is setting the stage for unprecedented new approaches to personalized medicine, diagnostics and technologies, and making Gov. Cuomo’s vision a reality.”