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December 2003 Issue

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Ohio Awards $25.2 Million to UC, Children's

Published December 2003

Imagine a future of medicine so technologically advanced that your prevention plan or treatment options could be personalized based on your genetic make-up and family history. Now imagine this all happening with a few key-strokes and the click of a mouse.

This is the future of care in Cincinnati if UC has anything to do with it. In October, the UC Medical Center and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center were awarded $25.2 million from the State of Ohio's Third Frontier Fund to form the collaborative Center for Computational Medicine.

Computational medicine at UC and Cincinnati Children's will combine high-powered computer technology, with already existing and newly discovered scientific and health-related data, to form a more complete medical history and "medical future" of patients. Work completed at the Center for omputational Medicine will have a large presence within affiliated hospitals through medical data communications. Researchers and physicians working at the Center will place, side-by-side, existing knowledge of disease, disease history, and information about the patient's genome, to form personalized diagnoses and treatments based on an individuals genetic make-up.

The UC Medical Center and Cincinnati Children's already work together in many ways, and constitute one of the largest National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded medical campuses in the state of Ohio. External funding tops out at more than $150 million.

Although funding through the NIH is the driver of research at the Medical Center, it stops short of providing the necessary monies needed to commercialize lab-bench research into commercial products which can be used at the bedside. Third Frontier funds, similar to those awarded to the Genome Research Institute (GRI) in 2001, facilitate partnerships between academic and industry leaders, increasing the products of existing biotech companies, and propelling the formation of new biotech companies, new technologies, new jobs and increased regional and state economic impact.

The Center for Computational Medicine will ultimately be located in the Center for Academic Research Excellence (CARE building), and will consist of biochemisty, genetics, and molecular biology laboratories. The Center's computer facility will be housed in the new addition to Cincinnati Children's. The abundance of already-existing clinical space at the UC Medical Center and its affiliates will serve the clinical purposes of the new Center.

With the recent upswing of entrepreneurial spirit at UC, one might wonder how the Center for Computational Medicine differs from other industry/academic synergies. Technologies developed at the Center will enable scientists to achieve discoveries that, in the near term, will improve the ability to fight the causes of hearing loss, cardiac disease, asthma, diabetes and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. In the longer term, discoveries will fight obesity, psychiatric illness and cancer.

"The UC College of Medicine is internationally recognized for cutting-edge research in the treatment of diseases such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, stroke and cardiovascular diseases," said William J. Martin II, MD, dean, UC College of Medicine. "UC researchers, such as Steve Liggett, MD, have already discovered that a patient's genetic make-up can affect his or her response to heart medications. The Center for Computational Medicine will accelerate this research beyond current standardized treatments, and will provide insight into more effective prevention and treatments. We are proud of our exceptional faculty at the UC College of Medicine and the partnerships that have resulted in this award from the state of Ohio."

Researchers have found that matching the human genome, with its many variations, to clinical status, is very difficult. For example, heart failure affects five million adults, and there are 500,000 new cases of heart failure each year. Half of those with heart failure die within five years. Predicting who will develop heart disease, who will progress to severe failure requiring heart transplant and which medicines to use have been major challenges. In recent years, Dr. Liggett, and other investigators from the UC College of Medicine who will be working at the Center, have discovered some genetic variants that "program" the heart. Dr. Liggett and his colleagues are developing a test to personalize care for this disease.

"For our own work, the Center will open two bottlenecks that we have experienced in trying to merge genetic and clinical information," said Dr. Liggett, Taylor Professor of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine. "First, we will finally have the computational tools and storage space (multiple terabytes of disk space) to analyze the data. Secondly, our partnerships with industry will enable discoveries to become viable products that can be used in routine medical care."

The computer software created at the Center will merge the vast amount of genomic information with complicated clinical information. This will all happen as the Center brings together world-class physicians, researchers and commercial partners. Business partners include Sun Microsystems, Molecular Research Center (a Cincinnati-based assay development company), and three Ohio software companies: Acero, Cincom and It-Cube. Other partners include the Ohio Supercomputer Center, P&G, CincyTech and Bio/START.

"The investment made by the Governor's Third Frontier Program holds the promise of transforming our current approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of major illnesses," said Jane E. Henney, MD, senior vice president and provost for health affairs at the UC Medical Center. "We look forward to this undertaking with the College of Medicine, Cincinnati Children's, and our industry partners."

"This leading-edge, biomedical research will create new, high paying jobs for Greater Cincinnati and offer new approaches for preventing and treating disease," added Nancy Zimpher, PhD, president of UC. "We celebrate the beginning of a new project that will drive the future economy of the State of Ohio."

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