Annual ICBI Symposium Gathers Steam at Nexus of Science and Informatics

OCTOBER 10, 2014—The Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics (ICBI) at Georgetown University Medical Center hosted its third annual Biomedical Informatics Symposium, breaking attendance records and demonstrating impressive momentum for the relatively new center.

The Oct. 2 event drew more than 300 people to Georgetown for a day devoted to exploring implications of big data in biomedicine, cloud computing, data visualization, cancer immunotherapy and related subjects.

According to ICBI Director Subha Madhavan, PhD, the symposium’s exponential growth over the past three years reflects the desire for information that intersects the scientific and informatics communities. The event format works, she says, because it focuses on “thematic areas where informatics can really plug in and add value.”

“This year our morning plenary session focused on cancer immunotherapies—in the past we have done personalized medicine and cancer genomics,” said Madhavan, who is also associate professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The idea is to choose an area that highlights the challenges in science where informaticians, computational biologists and biostatisticians can play a key role.”

The keynote lecture this year was delivered by Atul Butte, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Data Systems Medicine and associate professor at Stanford University. His topic was: “Transforming Trillion of Points of Data into Diagnostics, Therapeutics and New Insights into Disease.”

A special session in the afternoon titled “Finding Value in Cancer Care” featured John Marshall, MD, director of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The afternoon also showcased a second plenary session on “Science in the Cloud,” focusing on various cloud-based computing options for analyzing large-scale data sets, led by internationally renowned computer scientist Ian Foster from University of Chicago.

A poster session and reception at the conclusion of the day allowed for ample conversation and networking.

According to Madhavan, now that the event has gained traction, the challenge for future years will be to find increasingly meaningful ways to connect the various disciplines. She said ICBI is exploring developing a workshop focused on the legal and economic barriers to the large-scale implementation of personalized medicine.

In introductory remarks, Georgetown University Medical Center Dean for Research Robert Clarke said the days of academic “ivory towers” are over.

“It is unlikely that any single one of us will have the adequate expertise in any of the areas that are necessary to perform a single study that uses these types of large data sets,” Clarke said. “It is a truly going to need to be a ‘multi-inter-disciplinary’ approach—and that means team science.”

Breaking down the silos between biomedical research, clinical and translational research and informatics is essential to achieving personalized medicine.

“I like to call it science without borders,” Clarke said.

By Lauren Wolkoff
GUMC Communications