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IU partners with ESnet to shed light on precision medicine

Bioinformatics workshop featured IU’s Bill Barnett as keynote speaker

Can you imagine a world in which, instead of medical patients being treated based on longstanding conventional practices, information technology was used to customize care? You’re already living in it.

“There is a misconception about the strong relationship between our health and our medical care. In fact, according to research, 90 percent of what affects our health is not determined by our medical care,” asserted Bill Barnett, chief research informatics officer, Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and Regenstrief Institute. “Much stronger factors affecting our health are behavioral choices, genetics, social circumstances, and environmental conditions."

Barnett’s comments were made during his keynote talk on precision medicine at the recent CrossConnects bioinformatics workshop, held at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

Precision medicine—treatment tailored to patients’ specific characteristics—is just one element of biomedical informatics. One of the fastest-growing disciplines in science today, bioinformatics is a broad interdisciplinary field blending computer science, statistics, mathematics, and engineering to better understand data. While information technology and medicine are vastly different fields, biomedical informatics links them through data scientists using high performance computing to make new medical discoveries.

“The ability to access data from multiple sources, combine that information, and then analyze it to pinpoint key areas is increasingly important across many science domains, as well as the emerging field of precision medicine,” said Inder Monga, acting director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Science Network (ESnet), co-sponsor of the bioinformatics workshop. “By providing the bandwidth, specialized tools, and expertise, networks like ESnet are helping researchers focus on the scientific challenges at hand, rather than worrying about the technology, which is the goal of the CrossConnects workshop series.” 

Like most aspects of society, the medical profession is using advancements in big data for its benefit, with the study of precision medicine leading to new insights that will have a long-term impact. Biomedical informatics is continuously developing, which made it even more valuable for participants to convene at the workshop and discuss the latest trends in the field.

As illustrated by Dr. Steven Newhouse, head of technical services at the European Bioinformatics Institute (part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory), "Some of our smaller data resources are doubling in size every three to four months, while our 10-petabyte-sized archive is now growing at 40-50 percent each year. This provides many challenges in delivering an effective analysis infrastructure to meet the demands of researchers." 

Indiana University’s Precision Health Initiative was recently named the recipient of the first round of funding for the university’s $300 million Grand Challenges Program. The transformative research initiative will be led by Anantha Shekhar, IU associate vice president for clinical affairs and IU School of Medicine executive associate dean for research affairs.

The workshop was the fourth in an ongoing series that bring together domain researchers with networking and informatics specialists.  The program was planned by a program committee comprised of leaders in both the science and engineering domains. 

Program committee members included:

  • William K. Barnett, Chief Research Informatics Officer, Indiana Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute and Regenstrief Institute (chair)
  • Brooklin Gore, Infrastructure Group Lead, ESnet (organizer)
  • Dan Jacobson, Computational Biologist, ORNL (co-chair)
  • Nikos Kyrpides, Microbial Genomes and Metagenomes Program Head, Joint Genomics Institute
  • Ravi Madduri, Senior Member, Computation Institute, ANL
  • Kate Mace, Science Engagement Program Manager, ESnet (organizer)
  • Predrag Radulovic, Science Engagement Engineer, International Networking, IU (organizer)
  • Jennifer Schopf, Director of International Networking, IU (organizer)
  • Lauren Rotman, Science Engagement Lead, ESnet (organizer)

The workshop was supported through a National Science Foundation grant (ACI-1445821) awarded to International Networks Director Dr. Jennifer Schopf.