OHSU Launches New Biostatistics, Informatics Center

08/04/04    Portland, Ore.

Critical research infrastructure supported by Oregon Opportunity

A new, interdisciplinary research and education center at Oregon Health & Science University is bringing biostatistics, clinical and biomedical informatics, and advanced computing under one virtual roof.

The Center for Biostatistics, Computing and Informatics in Biology and Medicine provides a venue for interdisciplinary research and education as an academic center while offering critical research infrastructure through a campuswide service unit within the center called the Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Shared Resource (BBSR).

"The mission of the BBSR is to support the research needs of campus investigators related to biostatistics, analysis for genomics and proteomics, and informatics support for translational research, and we hope to eventually provide more support for high-performance and other computing needs as related to research," said the center's interim director, Thomas Becker, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of public health and preventive medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.

"It just seemed like the right thing we needed to be doing at the university. It represents OHSU's commitment to building the infrastructure needed to support research growth. This is a campuswide resource."

The idea for the center emerged two years ago at a meeting of academic and clinical researchers from OHSU's schools of medicine, science and engineering, nursing and dentistry. The gathering, organized by Dan Dorsa, Ph.D., OHSU vice president for research, sought ways to foster multidisciplinary research among the diverse areas of clinical, basic science and engineering at OHSU.

The group found there were needs for cross-school collaboration in educational programs in bioinformatics and biostatistics, and that there was a lack of centralized resources for providing biostatistics and informatics support in a service capacity.

OHSU's Office of Research Development and Administration opened the center in January with the help of a grant from the Oregon Opportunity, the $500 million, public-private biomedical research funding initiative.

The center has three primary focuses: research, education and service. One objective is to facilitate interactions among a diverse group of researchers, as well as enhance and strengthen academic programs in biostatistics and bioinformatics.

Last year, the National Institutes of Health launched its "Roadmap" initiative, which seeks to deepen understanding of biology, stimulate interdisciplinary research teams, and reshape clinical research to accelerate medical discovery and improve people's health. Creation of the center allows for the development of the interdisciplinary team that will tackle the efforts.

For example, in a joint partnership between the OHSU Cancer Institute and the center, cancer biologists, computer scientists and biostatisticians submitted a grant proposal for an Integrative Cancer Biology program to the National Cancer Institute in April in line with the Roadmap framework. Future collaborative grants will include other areas of the Roadmap, as well as training grants.

The center's educational component is focused on identifying collaborative efforts for new, multidisciplinary programs and looking for ways to strengthen existing programs. A new course on computational biology was launched this summer and is co-taught by David Maier, Ph.D., professor of computer science and engineering, OHSU's OGI School of Science & Engineering, and Shannon McWeeney, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health and preventive medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.

The course is the first of many cross-discipline courses to emerge from collaborations within the center. The center also serves as an umbrella for community building through journal clubs, seminars and a new colloquia series to start this fall.

Service is another focus of the center. The BBSR provides biostatistical and bioinformatics consultation and services on a fee-for-service basis. It is directed by Motomi Mori, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.

There are two groups within the BBSR: the Biostatistics Group and the Advanced Data and Computing Support Resource (ADCSR) Group. The biostatistics group provides biostatistical support for research activities of OHSU cores, centers and investigators. Offering expertise in clinical research and functional genomics, its members consist of statisticians, biostatisticians and bioinformaticists with a wide range of expertise. Among its numerous services are consultation on study/experimental design, sample size and power analysis, assistance on grant or protocol submission, data analysis, and statistical software training.

The ADCSR Group offers expertise in clinical and biomedical informatics. Its staff comprises Web, database and software developers with industry and academic experience. Services include design and implementation of databases and data-driven Web sites, algorithm implementation, and software development and maintenance.

"Our goal is to foster collaboration with all the existing units, including ITG, the High-Performance Computing Center and other informatics resources on the hill." said Edwin Quick, ADCSR project manager and Web applications developer.

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