Letters from Leadership
Whether seeking to predict storm paths, optimize web searches, or understand complex human biological processes, scientists must be able to capture and make sense of massive quantities of information, that is, manage “big data.”
Today’s teams of biomedical scientists require computational and mathematical approaches to deal with the explosion of data being generated by sensors, electronic medical records, devices, and genomics. With powerful new supercomputers, investigators are creating simulations that model human responses, much more quickly and safely than traditional clinical trials.
This summer, as part of a partnership between the University, New York State, and IBM, Rochester acquired IBM’s Blue Gene/Q, one of the most dynamic and efficient computer systems in the world.Â Adding to our existing portfolio of supercomputers, the Blue Gene/Q will provide extra muscle for the Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation (HSCCI).Â Already 500 University of Rochester scientists use high-performance supercomputing in their research and the center has helped to attract at least
$107 million in new funding. The new addition makes Rochester one of the five most powerful university-based supercomputing sites in the country.
In this issue, you will meet biologist David J. Topham, Ph.D., the executive director of the HSCCI.Â David is using the supercomputer to build highly sophisticated mathematical models that simulate the immune response to influenza and vaccination. You’ll also read about how he’s encouraging the use of the computer to marry the data sets of teams of investigators. We can only begin to imagine what discoveries lie ahead, as the Blue Gene/Q helps us to spot patterns in mountains of data.
And, it’s not just biomedical research that stands to benefit. Bioinformatics is a prerequisite for practicing personalized medicine, population health management, for controlling quality and costs, and more. Supercomputing holds enormous promise across our missions.
Watch for our next issue of Rochester Medicine, in which Rochester’s new chair of Biostatistics and CompuÂtational Biology, Robert J. Strawderman, III, Sc.D., talks about his vision for a focused and thriving role in academic medicine. Statisticians are not only critical for interpreting data in a sensible way, but they’re helping us at the front end to carefully designÂ trials that allow us to see meaningful results and apply them broadly, and to discover patterns in big data that set the stage for future investigations. Yes, mining and managing big data is the next big frontier — and we look forward to being able to report our significant progress in the months and years to come.
It’s no secret that research money from the National Institutes of Health has tightened, primarily because of the federal budget and the slow pace of the economic recovery, and competition for the available money is fierce.
The School of Medicine and Dentistry has 435 grants and contracts from NIH, and almost 1,200 when you include research grants and contracts from all sponsors. These support about 3,300 people who are directly involved in the science or who support our research enterprise.
So you can see there is much at stake as we face one of the most challenging research environments in a decade. Over the last two federal fiscal years, half of the top 50 research schools have seen grant support from the NIH decline. Like most of our peers, the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s funding from grants and contracts in fiscal 2012 was flat compared to the past year.
While we might have done better than some of our peers, the cost of science is increasing at a higher rate than the cost of living. Our scientists and our research enterprise are being severely stressed.
We are working to develop more support for research on several fronts. But one of the most important is developing more endowed chairs and proÂfessorships.
Endowments, as I say frequently, are very important for the future of the School. Endowments help us retain the faculty we treasure and also recruit excellence for the future. Endowments also help us continue or expand research, teaching and clinical care.
Since we started our campaign – The Meliora Challenge: The Campaign for the University of Rochester – we have received gifts that have established 25 new endowed chairs or professorships.
This issue of Rochester Medicine includes a report on Georgia Gosnell, and her late husband, Thomas, who have been generous and long-time supporters of the University and the Medical Center. Mrs. Gosnell has decided to use $3.1 million from their previous philanthropy to establish two permanent endowed professorships: Timothy E. Quill, M.D. (M ’76, R ’79), receives the Georgia and Thomas Gosnell Distinguished Professorship in Palliative Care, while Robert J. Panzer, M.D. (R ’80, FLW ’82), receives the Georgia and Thomas Gosnell Professorship in Quality and Safety.
At convocation in August, I took part in awarding 11 endowed chairs and professorships, seven of which are new. This is a tremendous boost for our School. As you will read in this issue, we have new endowed positions in nephrology, anesthesiology, pediatrics, neuromedicine, orthopaedics, neuromuscular research and family medicine.
This is just the beginning, a very important beginning. Before we began the campaign, we had 39 endowed professorships. Our goal is to double that number by June 30, 2016. We’re closing in on our goal, but I’m thinking we can surpass it.
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Students take medicine and care out of the hospital into the streets
Emma Lo, a third-year student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, has spent a lot of time in city parks, under bridges and wandering city streets, settings not usually recommended for students.