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UMB joins research group Optum Labs

The University of Maryland, Baltimore has joined Optum Labs — a research collaborative comprised of health care organizations that share data to improve care delivery and patient outcomes.

As the newest partner, UMB will work alongside other academic institutions, technology and life sciences companies, health care providers and health organizations to pool resources and expertise to advance shared projects.

Of particular interest to Optum Labs is UMB’s research about Alzheimer’s disease and other aging issues. And UMB officials, for their part, are eager to access Optum Labs’ massive trove of integrated clinical and claims data, which they said will help them increase the scope and impact of their aging-related research.

“Optum Labs houses one of the largest linked and de-identified claims and electronic medical records repositories in the country,” Eleanor Perfetto, a professor in the School of Pharmacy who is leading the effort to partner with Optum Labs, said in a statement.

“Researchers across the university can now access this data to conduct studies that will inform better decision making, support caregivers and improve care for elderly patients,” she said.

Additionally, Perfetto said she thinks the partnership will create new research opportunities for faculty and students in departments across UMB — not just in the School of Pharmacy, which is the first pharmacy school represented in the collaborative.

A number of resources at UMB made the university an attractive partner for Optum Labs, officials there said.

The School of Pharmacy includes the Pharmaceutical Research Computing center, which helps analyze data for health researchers through computer programming, data management and other services.

The PRC center will be very involved with the new partnership, said the center’s director, assistant professor Eberechukwu Onukwugha.

Additionally, the pharmacy school is home to the Peter Lamy Center for Drug Therapy and Aging, and the School of Medicine includes the Center for Research on Aging. Both centers highlight UMB’s commitment to and expertise in aging-related research, Perfetto said.

Perfetto also said she expects joining the collaborative will make the university more competitive for contracts with and grants from private sector, government and philanthropic organizations.

“This partnership with Optum Labs enhances UMB’s recognition as a leader in ‘big data’ research,” Perfetto said in her statement.

Optum Labs is one of several divisions of Optum Inc., the health IT unit of UnitedHealth Group. Optum Labs was founded in January 2013 as a joint venture with the Mayo Clinic. It bills itself as “the country’s first open, collaborative research and innovation center.”

Partners conduct clinical trials and prototype testing for their shared research projects in one another’s care settings, such as hospitals or labs, with the ultimate goal of increasing overall knowledge and improving health care delivery and outcomes.