New Center Spotlights Intersection of Medicine and Informatics

Posted in GUMC Stories

This summer, Georgetown University Medical Center announced the establishment of the Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics, or ICBI. The Center’s mission is to enhance translational research at GUMC and to attract and educate the next generation of scientists and physicians for whom bioinformatics will be an integral part both biomedical research and clinical practice.

To complement the launch, the ICBI will host the 1st Annual Biomedical Informatics Symposium on Friday, October 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center. This free symposium will showcase several exciting applications in the field of biomedical informatics.

As the ICBI propels forward with significant grant support already in place, we asked the Center’s inaugural director, Subha Madhavan, Ph.D., about the growing deluge of biomedical data and how the ICBI can help basic and clinical researchers benefit from it.

What is the ICBI and what are some of its goals?

ICBI is an academic hub for cutting-edge research in the field of biomedical informatics, which is the discipline that unites the study of genomics with computer science. Our goal is to find patterns or variations in molecular data from patients that can lead to better therapeutic interventions and contribute toward the ultimate goal of personalized medicine here at Georgetown.

The ICBI is truly an expansion of an effort you helped launch at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Tell us about that.

That’s right, the effort began four years ago when I was recruited from the National Cancer Institute by our cancer center director Dr. Louis Weiner to establish a Clinical Informatics group within Lombardi. Dr. Weiner supported the initial development of our flagship platform, the Georgetown Database of Cancer (G-DOC)®, which enables researchers to analyze genomics data across numerous cancer studies and clinical trials. G-DOC has led to several collaborations with academic researchers and physicians at Georgetown and our various partner organizations to study not only cancer, but other disease areas including Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and even the analysis of genomes from babies born prematurely.

What do you see as the trend, and thus the need, in research in terms of how research will need to incorporate bioinformatics?

Bioinformatics research is pervasive and probably used now in almost every laboratory that does genomics (includes proteomics and metabolomics) research. But because it is such a new field, bioinformatics is rarely used in the clinic to help doctors make more informed decisions about patient care. Clinical adoption is the trend of where bioinformatics research is going – helping doctors to understand and use genomics data using a variety of data analysis approaches. A major goal of the ICBI is to educate and train the next generation of physicians who will be incorporating bioinformatics research into their practices.

What are some of the projects already underway in the ICBI?

One of our most recent projects being funded by the FDA is to analyze genomics data from cancer patients (and model systems) to discover variants (mutations) associated with disease progression and how different people respond to various drugs based on their genes. The FDA is also funding us to analyze data from the 1000 Genomes Project, which is looking at variation in the genomes of 1000 healthy patients. We also have an interesting project in collaboration with a major hospital to find biomarkers contributing to premature birth. Our bread and butter to date though has been the development of novel software tools and data integration platforms for cancer research to help find biomarkers of disease as well as new druggable targets.

The Oct. 12 symposium appears to be a wonderful opportunity for all involved in biomedical research. What do you hope people gain from attending?

Although this will be the first biomedical informatics symposium at Georgetown, the idea for it started with Dr. Sona Vasudevan, assistant professor and director of the MD/MS degree program in Systems Medicine, who has run smaller symposia related to informatics resources available at Georgetown. This free symposium will have a broader scope; not only will people learn about the research tools available to them at Georgetown, they will also hear from top experts in government and academia working on state-of-the-art biomedical informatics research who will inspire us to move the frontiers of science forward in this field.

Registration for the 1st Annual Biomedical Informatics Symposium closes October 1.
To sign up or for more information, visit

Edited by Karen Mallet, GUMC Communications
(Published Sept. 19, 2012)