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Posted: 03 April 2007

New institute targets genetic information to deliver personalised healthcare

A new all-Ireland institute, the Institute of Biomedical Informatics (IBI) has been established to conduct research and develop international standards in biomedical informatics. The total investment in the institute, which is a joint collaboration between HP, the Irish Government and several third-level institutions, is expected to reach €30million over the next five years.

The IBI aims to develop the software tools required to achieve the ultimate goal of the “post-genome” era – to use genetic information to develop personalised life-long healthcare. For example, understanding why a particular drug has a beneficial effect on one patient, invokes a toxic response in a second, and has no effect on a third.

An important aspect of the work of the IBI will be to develop innovative software approaches to help us understand the relationships between genes and disease, how genetic variation manifests as both susceptibility to disease and response to therapy, and the influence of the environment.

“The formation of IBI complements our vision that Ireland will be internationally renowned for the excellence of its research and be at the forefront in generating and using new knowledge for economic and social progress within an innovation-driven culture,” said Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment.

The IBI foundation partners led by University College Dublin include the National University of Ireland Galway, Trinity College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast along with HP as the first industrial partner. The institute is overseen by a board of representatives from the foundation partners.

The institute will collaborate with other academic and industrial partners to perform substantial research in health informatics, bioinformatics, image analysis, and systems modeling – disciplines central to biomedical informatics. Funding for the IBI will be through a collaboration of public funding agencies and industrial partners. A foundation scholars program has already been established with initial funding provided by HP and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology to the value of $1 million.

IBI will focus on driving new biomedical informatics research around breast cancer, prostate cancer, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, and reproductive biology. There will be strong emphasis on systems research and service provision through large-scale computing, data management and mining, and visualization. The institute will also develop and drive international standards for biomedical informatics and provide input on national and international policy.

“There is a pressing need for biomedical informatics in Ireland, both for evolving biomedical research and for the development of the health service. UCD is delighted to work with each of IBI’s founding partners to create a programme of research, postgraduate education, innovation and enterprise”, said Dr Hugh Brady, President of University College Dublin.

“The Institute of Biomedical Informatics builds an interdisciplinary initiative that will further research and innovation in the field of bioinformatics and health informatics, enabling new work in healthcare to enhance the delivery of a first class health service,” continued Dr Brady. “In addition, it will train a future generation of graduates who will in turn continue to revolutionize the way science is performed.”

Dr Iognáid Ó Muircheartaigh, President of NUI Galway, also welcomed the establishment of the IBI. "NUI Galway is very enthusiastic about its involvement in this innovative collaborative IBI programme,” he said. “In addition to new discoveries, advances in knowledge, and intellectual property that will emerge from the research, we see huge potential from the initiative to train the next generation of highly qualified practitioners, to bridge the fields of biomedical science and medical informatics, in the development of the next wave of biomedical informatics solutions."

“Trinity College welcomes this collaboration between universities, the public sector and industry,” said Dr John Hegarty, Trinity College Provost. “Informatics, particularly health informatics, is an area of great importance to Trinity, and formalising this initiative can only lead to increased success in this domain,” he continued.

Professor Peter Gregson, President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast also welcomed the establishment of this important all-island consortium. “This is the first major step in the development of Queen's strategic programme of North/South research collaboration,” he said. “It reflects the priority to collaborate on an all-island basis contained within the Irish National Development Plan announced by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in January 2007."

IBI will tackle some of the most important and difficult problems in biomedical informatics, according to Jeff Miller, Vice President, Health and Life Sciences, HP.

“This is a very exciting development for HP and for Ireland. It represents one of HP’s key international innovation hubs in Health and Life Sciences, alongside Harvard Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics in Boston and Vital-IT in Switzerland,” he said. “We look forward to working with our academic and industrial partners to ensure IBI’s success.”

Prof Paddy Nixon from the UCD School of Computer Science and Informatics who is Director of the IBI explained how the institute will enable scientists to integrate, interrogate and correlate experimental data sets collated by biomedical researchers with observations by clinical scientists which capture growing levels of context-rich patient-specific information.

“The meta-data this analysis produces must then be accessible to a community of investigators,” he continued. “Together, this information enables biomedical researchers to advance hypotheses-driven research and expands the clinician’s armoury in tackling serious disease.”

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