Published July 18, 2022
The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences hosted the 2022 National Library of Medicine (NLM) T15 Biomedical Informatics and Data Science Training Grant Conference June 22-24.
Peter L. Elkin, MD, UB Distinguished Professor and chair of biomedical informatics, put together the conference along with members of his department. Registered participants totaling 227 people discussed informatics and data science throughout the event.
The National Library of Medicine supports research training in biomedical informatics and data science at 18 educational institutions in the United States.
Its T15 program offers graduate education and postdoctoral training and research experiences in a wide range of areas including health care informatics, translational bioinformatics, clinical informatics, public health informatics and consumer health informatics.
The Department of Biomedical Informatics had its NLM T15 training grant renewed in June for five years at $2.58 million and had its training slots increased from five to eight.
“It shows faith in our programs. This will support four doctoral students and four post-doctoral trainees,” Elkin said. “When you factor in our Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accredited fellowship in clinical informatics, it puts us in the top 10 percent of medical schools in biomedical informatics.”
Each year, an informatics training conference is convened to bring NLM trainees together to showcase their work, to evaluate the full scope of current work in the field, and to meet their peers.
“This has been an amazing adventure,” Elkin told the trainees at the 2022 conference’s closing ceremony. “We really enjoyed getting to know many of you personally and through your work.”
Elkin noted the number of plenary talks, focus talks, rapid talks, poster presentations and panels that were conducted and thanked the National Library of Medicine for its sponsorship of the conference.
“I want to thank all the training program directors, and the faculty and everybody who was moderating at the sessions and to all the trainees who gave their heart and soul to produce great work,” Elkin said. “And then to get up there and be brave to present it in front of your colleagues, and take questions, you guys were so masterful.”
“You are truly a beautiful group,” he added. “The brainpower in the room, it’s a wonder that the whole world’s problems aren’t solved with all of you people just being next to each other.”
Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, also spoke at the closing ceremony.
“I want to thank everyone for attending. It is so wonderful to have the leadership of the National Library of Medicine here,” she said. “One of my asks of everyone is that when you leave here is that you tell all of your friends about all the richness that is here in Buffalo.”
“We are very pleased with Dr. Elkin and his Department of Biomedical Informatics. His group is involved in 40 percent of the research that goes on here at UB,” Brashear added. “Currently, we have multiple clinical trials underway at the Jacobs School. We are actively pushing the envelope on how to improve the health of the region, as well as nationally.”
A committee of judges issued awards in several categories at the conference: poster, rapid research ideas and tech talks, focus and plenary.
William Thomas Mangione, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Ram Samudrala, PhD, professor of bioinformatics and chief of the Division of Bioinformatics, was one of the poster award winners for his project titled “Effective Holistic Characterization of Small Molecule Effects Using Heterogeneous Biological Networks.”
“It involved the interconnection of thousands of different biological ‘entities’ like proteins, therapeutic drugs, diseases, and even drug side effects to try to better understand and predict how these medications are treating disease,” Mangione said.
“The biggest takeaways are that this network style approach is superior to our previous approaches that do not simultaneously consider all of these different things, and an unexpected result was that the known side effects for a drug can be very useful for trying to assess which diseases that drug may be effective at treating,” he added.
Mangione said it was really interesting to be the hosting school for the NLM conference.
“I’m used to going to other schools and cities and asking a ton of questions about them, but this time I was the one answering all those questions,” he said. “Winning the poster competition here was an excellent cap to a great conference.”
On the first day of the conference, Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PHD, director of the NLM, provided a keynote address to the trainees.
A. Scott Weber, PhD, UB’s provost and executive vice president for executive affairs, also welcomed trainees, program directors and NLM staff with an overview of UB’s research and education programs.
At the closing ceremony, Richard C. Palmer, DrPH, JD, acting director of NLM extramural programs, congratulated Elkin and his “team at UB for pulling off this great meeting.
He also offered some parting thoughts to the fellows in attendance.
“You are the future leaders. As you move forward with your careers, think about innovation,” Palmer said. “Think about how you can tackle some of these health problems that face this nation and come up with effective solutions that will make lives better for everyone — so that is your challenge, and we look forward to supporting you on this journey.”
He also reminded them that there are “ups and downs in science.”
“For those of you who go through the more career academic track and are dependent on the National Institutes of Health, funding comes in cycles, and you have to persevere,” Palmer said. “There are highs and lows, but you have to stay on track and it will all work out at the end.”
He noted “science is not conducted by an individual. It is conducted by a community and you are all part of this biomedical informatics community.”
Elkin also stressed the importance of working together as a team.
“At the end of the day, the thing that makes the most impact is that we are a community and we are strong. And if we pull together in the right direction, we can change the world,” he said.
“I saw so much synergy in all of the activities that you were doing. Talk to your colleagues, get involved in collaborative research,” Elkin added. “Move things forward and pick problems that are worthy of your intellect. Don’t pick low-hanging fruit, pick problems that are worthy of the kind of thought that you are capable of.”