SUNY awards Upstate and partners $2M to recruit Empire Scholars

Upstate Medical University and its partners have received nearly $2 million in funding from the State University of New York (SUNY) to recruit top researchers as Empire Scholars in the emerging field of biostatics and bioinformatics.

The scholars will advance two initiatives—the Program in Genomic Health and the Institute for Precision Medicine. The initiatives will lead to more precise approaches for disease treatment and prevention and create pathways for biostatics/bioinformatics educational programs at Upstate.

The awards are provided through SUNY’s Investment & Performance Fund, an expansion of the Empire Innovation Program (EIP) that supports campus efforts to recruit top faculty researchers. In all, SUNY awarded approximately $8 million in this latest round of EIP funding to more than 10 SUNY-wide projects.

“With our successful winning of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, we expect to see large investments in data science and analytics in Central New York,” said David C. Amberg, PhD, vice president for research at Upstate. “This initial and generous funding from SUNY, will jump start the precision medicine aspect of that initiative as part of a greater effort to re-imagine the region as a leader in data analytics driven research and development.”

Program in Genomic Health

Upstate and SUNY Downstate Medical Center will share a $1.3 million EIP award to recruit two or more Empire Scholars for its upcoming combined Program in Genomic Health. The program is an extension of the partnership’s existing work in genomic medicine and will build upon current science that identifies and confirms genetic abnormalities associated with behavior, substance use, and neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, and other psychiatric disorders.

The Empire Scholars will hold faculty appointments at both universities and be involved in all aspects of the program’s objectives to:

• build upon the partnership’s existing, significant database of genetic abnormalities that may make people at greater risk for neuropsychiatric or psychiatric disorders.

•  perform bioinformatics to better understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of these abnormalities.

• develop a model that shows underlying common genetic traits of these disorders—from the genetic information—providing physicians with a more precise diagnostic tool and aiding in the development of more precise therapies to treat neuropychiatric/psychiatric disorders.

Upstate’s Program in Genomic Health investigators are Stephen Faraone, PhD; Stephen J. Glatt, PhD; Frank Middleton, PhD; and Yanli Zhang-James, PhD. Other SUNY campus program collaborators on this project may include University at Albany, University at Buffalo, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Oswego, and Stony Brook University.

SUNY Institute for Precision Medicine

Upstate has received $650,000 to hire a world-class biomedical data scientist who will direct this federally funded research program. The Empire Scholar will help identify and coordinate collaborative projects in the region, leveraging bioinformatics and health informatics to address the health needs of the communities served by the region. The scholar also will participate in pipeline education programs in biomedical-related informatics.

Precision medicine provides the opportunity to provide care that is tailor made to each patient. The Institute for Precision Medicine will bring together vast amounts of data, technology to compile the data, experts to interpret it and clinicians to implement improved and better informed treatments for patients. Ultimately, the institute will fuse the patient’s personal data to cancer treatments in clinic. Examples of data that will be mined include a patient’s genome sequence, the genome sequence of his/her tumor, detailed electronic health records and big data biomarker information obtained through proteomics and metabolomics.

The institute’s home base at Upstate will be integrated with SUNY Oswego Computational Precision Biomedicine Lab, aligning cutting edge resources to serve students, patients and the community. The Institute for Precision Medicine will be overseen by Amberg.

The EIP award to the institute is added to a $575,000 award received earlier this year from SUNY’s Performance and Investment Fund. The funding represents only part of the overall funding for the institute, which includes requests for staffing, technology, equipment, facilities and other program needs.

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