Biomedical Informatics

Significant Accomplishments

Enhanced Registry for ImproveCareNow

Our Division recently completed the implementation of an electronic health record (EHR)-linked “enhanced” registry for ImproveCareNow, a 54-center quality improvement and research network of gastroenterologists, researchers, patients and families that focuses on improving outcomes of children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This effort is supported by a 3-year, $12-million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The registry has allowed ImproveCareNow to create tools and processes to capture data directly from the EHR, which can be then uploaded to the registry to improve the quality of information obtained during the patient encounter, and support quality improvement. The registry helps automate pre-visit planning and population management activities and supports creation of mobile applications to increase patient participation in chronic care. The registry data supports novel research by generating estimates of the comparative treatment effects of biologic agents and allowing simulations. The data also can be used to generate ad hoc queries for cohort identification or for clinical trial feasibility.  The registry, now in its third year, has grown from 6,000 to more than 10,000 individuals and the number of centers in the network more than doubled. At the same time, the overall remission rate of patients in the network increased from 73 percent to 77 percent. Next year, the registry architecture will be extended to include adult patients with IBD.

Finding New Indications for Established Drugs

We continue to focus on design, development and application of network-based approaches to understand human disease and to accelerate drug discovery. Focusing on rare or orphan disorders, we are using the emerging tools of network medicine to explore the molecular complexity of these diseases. Our goal is to identify novel rare disease genes and more potential drug targets using algorithms and developed software systems we designed to help biomedical researchers form novel hypotheses from high-throughput data. One of our current focus areas is to find new indications for existing drugs. Our ultimate goal is to move drug repositioning from a serendipitous event to a systematic, comprehensive and rational search for drug repositioning candidates.

Reconstructing Critical Events of Embryonic Development

Jun Ma, PhD, focuses on the fundamental question of how an embryo develops the initial, elaborate patterns that later lead to the formation of organ structures. His team uses the fruit fly Drosophila as a model organism to study how the mother provides positional cues to the embryo and how cells in the embryo interpret such cues to form the initial spatial patterns. They have developed quantitative tools that allow them to investigate and reconstruct the critical events of early embryonic development at an increasingly fine resolution of both space and time. Their study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, will not only advance the fundamental knowledge of how biological systems operate but also will reveal insights critical to our understanding of the molecular basis of human diseases including birth defects and cancer.