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UM’s College Park, Baltimore campuses form health care data research center

The University of Maryland’s founding campus and the state’s flagship university said Monday they had formed a research center that will use data analysis to better health care.

UMB President Dr. Jay A. Perman: ‘We need to understand why you can give the right medication to one adult, they get better with that disease, and the next one doesn’t respond at all. That’s the promise of personalized medicine.’

The Center for Health-related Informatics and Bioimaging brings together computer scientists at the University of Maryland, College Park, and health experts at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The center will analyze the wealth of patient data at UMB in an effort to make improvements to personal health care — determining how to tailor individual treatments.

UMB President Dr. Jay A. Perman said doctors used to assume that if a treatment or medication worked on one patient but not another, that must be the fault of that patient.

“Well, that’s all wrong,” Perman said. “We need to get down to a much more granular level. We need to understand why you can give the right medication to one adult, they get better with that disease, and the next one doesn’t respond at all. That’s the promise of personalized medicine.

“The only way we’re going to understand ‘this person’s in this bucket, this person’s in this bucket’ is if we’re able to mine all of that data.”

The initiative is part of greater collaboration between the two University System of Maryland campuses, a plan agreed to this spring. The universities are also going through the accreditation process for a collaborative School of Public Health, and are making efforts to commercialize a combined $1 billion in faculty research conducted each year.

The center’s College Park branch was paid for by $1 million in seed money from the provost’s office, the Division of Research and colleges and schools whose research faculty are involved. UMB’s funding model will be similar, a university statement said.

UMCP President Wallace D. Loh said College Park researchers would be able to help medical faculty in Baltimore solve health care problems they wouldn’t be able to alone.

“When Jay talks about ‘it’s all about personalized medicine,’ remember personalized medicine depends on computational power,” Loh said. “What you have are major problems in health and health care. The issues are [at UMB]. … Part of the solutions are in College Park. You have computer scientists with the technology and the know-how, and you have the biomedical researchers who have the problems.”

“There’s been a surge of new data related to genomics and proteins,” Amitabh Varshney, professor of computer science and director of UMCP’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, said in a statement. “We believe our computing resources … can help our colleagues in Baltimore identify specific disease markers to address serious health concerns like cancer, diabetes or autism.”

Leadership will be split between UMCP and UMB, with Varshney leading efforts in College Park. Owen White, associate director for bioinformatics at the Institute of Genome Sciences and professor in the University of Maryland School of Medicine, will head the effort in Baltimore.

“The School of Medicine and Institute of Genome Sciences bring together multidisciplinary teams of researchers who are taking cutting-edge research and translating this knowledge into diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics,” White said in a statement.

Work at the center will also consider health needs within a population, said Perman, a physician.

“We ought to be able, as we move forward, to look at a whole population and say this population needs a certain approach in order to make it healthier,” he said. “You have to have the information on the population. … That is one of the things that bioinformatics promises, and bioimaging.”

Perman said the center would make some federal grant money — previously inaccessible — far more attainable.

“This kind of center allows Wallace and I, and our faculty, to compete for large [National Institutes of Health] grants that require strength in bioinformatics,” Perman said.


One comment

  1. The citizens of Maryland are not well served if all of public education falls under the jurisdiction of a few people who are chosen by elected officials who are in office far too long.

    What we are seeing is a commercialization of public universities that takes away diversity of thought, diversity of experience, and depth of knowledge as to lower standards that will harm the public in the long run. So, who will get the research grants? One board will decide for all Maryland universities? Who will chose what issues are pressing in regards research and academic instruction? One board will decide for all Maryland universities? Who will decide tenure and search for new professors? One board will decide for all Maryland universities? The money meted out for research by the Federal government will go to which institutions and what are the criteria? One board will decide for all Maryland.

    The problem is this: No one wants this……so why is it happening and why are the public not deciding these major issues? I went to the University of Maryland Library and asked for access to all of the discussions on the merger of the campuses and was told….its not available yet, they are still deciding.

    People need to be very concerned by all this because when we hear of allowing universities to patent their research and when corporatized universities partner with businesses the public is still giving all the research grant money but more and more the research becomes proprietary. You and I give our taxes and we can’t know what they are doing. All of NASA filled our lives with public images and as these politicians move to privatize NASA… to will we lose our rights to see for what we paid.

    It is best to just vote your incumbent out of office and let them work directly for Wall Street.