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Biomedical informatics leaders join forces for research, education

UMR fosters collaborations among doctors and scientists

February 4, 2008

The first Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology Research Symposium brought together teams from the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, IBM and the Hormel Institute.

Biomedical informatics and computational biology are enabling high-tech medical science by making sense of the mountains of data coming from today's research labs. Now some of Minnesota's scientific leaders are teaming up to maximize efforts in this field and attract research dollars to the state.

More than 80 researchers and scientists gathered at the University of Minnesota, Rochester (UMR) in January to share the early results of five research projects and to mark a milestone in a new collaboration that helps bolster the state's strength in these critical fields. The first Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology (BICB) Research Symposium brought together research teams with members from the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, IBM, and the Hormel Institute.

"The combination of Mayo Clinic, IBM, and a major research university is powerful and rare," says Claudia Neuhauser, head of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior and BICB planning member. "This collaboration provides the base to more quickly reach the kind of discoveries that result in new business opportunities and spin-off companies."

Since fall, these teams have focused their efforts on data mining techniques to improve medical treatment and on computational methods to tailor drug development. This work offers the potential to advance research on a broader scale, as well as industry in the region.

Funding from the 2006 Minnesota Legislature established the UMR BICB program, which hosted the symposium and administers the seed grant program that launched these first research projects. The BICB program supports collaborative educational and research programs in biomedical informatics and computational biology through partnership with U departments on the Twin Cities campus, IBM, Mayo Clinic, and the Hormel Institute,.

At the symposium, research teams not only presented their current work, they also helped shape future projects.

"The teams met to work toward the establishment of a common vision that will be developed into research proposals," says Jim Clausen, UMR program management consultant for bioscience. "We want to maximize our current projects to attract additional funding from other sources such as the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation.

In addition to the research initiative, the BICB program also started a graduate traineeship program for students from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic Graduate School. Also in the works are M.S. and Ph.D. programs in biomedical informatics and computational biology in health and life sciences.

"These efforts both leverage the strength of the participating institutions and establish a foundation for growth," says Stephen Lehmkuhle, UMR chancellor. "We look forward to building from this foundation with initiatives that offer benefits in research and economic returns."

The commitment of industry partners is a key factor in helping BICB reach its goals, says Lehmkuhle. BICB is fortunate to enjoy such passionate involvement from industry leaders such as IBM, Mayo, and Hormel, he adds.

"IBM Rochester wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supports the BICB program," says Walt Ling, IBM vice president and Minnesota senior state executive. "We are excited about the contributions that we believe BICB will bring."

For information, visit the BICB or contact Michael Olesen, program director for bioscience, at, 612.625.6414, or 507-280-4647.