Is Bioinformatics in San Diego’s Future? A Chat with UC San Diego Expert Lucila Ohno-Machado
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already happening in some institutions, but the goal is to have it spread across the country and across the globe in a way that promotes new discoveries while preserving individual privacy.
X: Does U.S. health care reform have any implications, positive or negative, for this technology?
LOM: Part of the U.S. health care reform calls for comparative effectiveness research to determine which healthcare interventions result in better health outcomes. This is definitely something that biomedical informatics can help address, as it requires analysis of high quality matched data from large data sets. Biomedical informatics research covers several components of this process, such as how to optimally capture data, how to efficiently structure it for queries, how to adjust for patient mix, how to match patients, how to graphically display significant trends, and so on.
X: How might the technology improve health in general?
LOM: Globally, it is impossible to improve health without infrastructure that involves a complex network of healthcare providers at multiple institutions, pharmacists, patients and their families. With informatics tools, these players can interact to develop and implement the best strategies to improve health for an individual and for the population.
X: What is the role of the San Diego innovation community in advancing this technology? Besides fostering health improvement, can the technology provide jobs and economic growth?
LOM: The San Diego innovation community can play a unique role in advancing biomedical informatics. Here we have a large number of biotechnology companies such as Illumina, Sequenom, and many others, producing new measurement instruments that generate several gigabytes of data. There is an abundance of outstanding basic scientists and bioengineers in our academic centers and local companies. We also have a world class academic medical center generating large amounts of clinical and imaging data with clinicians working side-by-side with scientists and engineers who can translate discoveries into new healthcare interventions. Furthermore, San Diego leaders in telecommunications (Qualcomm and CalIT2) are generating advanced technology products that enable homecare connections for monitoring devices, telemedicine applications, and body sensor networks.
On top of all this, we have a burgeoning software industry for analytics that is well organized in subspecialty groups (e.g., companies and individuals affiliated with the San Diego Software Industry Council BioAnalytics group) and high performance computing at the San Diego Supercomputer Center that allows massive parallel processing for complex analyses. All these groups can, together with biomedical informatics specialists, make sure that data are integrated and analyzed in novel ways to make discoveries that can be delivered locally to improve health and minimize disease, as well as creating jobs and revitalizing the economy.