Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where does biomedical informatics belong within an academic center?

A question posed by Prof Miller during class today.

A) Within many different individual bioscience and clinical departments?
B) In its own department
C) In a computing support unit?

What do you guys think?

Although this question seemed more for hospitals and perhaps academic institutions, it occurred to me it can apply to a more general research setting - research institutes, even other drug/pharmaceutical companies too. And it happens that it seemed to be able to be applied to my ex-job at Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). If you think about it, RCG is like a biomedical informatics group, with people doing a myriad of different biomedical informatics - sequencing, population genetics, maintaining and creating applicational tools and database management for biologists and webpage and software mediation for the institute as a whole. It IS a support unit, on the institute's point of view, but yet functions as an individual department. And, if you think about my friend Ri in Mark's lab (I will want to believe he has a team of bioinfo guys now haha, but then he might still be outsourcing hehe, which isn't exactly a bad thing) previously or the bioinformatics specialists recruited to the different labs, you can also imagine a one-person support unit within the bioscience department or group.

The answer to the question will have to depend on the needs of the center. A center that is organized into labs, and heavily relies on computational technologies would necessarily require bioinformatics personnel in their own departments, in which themselves will have their own needs. And if the center is large enough, a new department can be established, to act as a home-base for additional personnel and it can serve both as an autonomous entity, with its own managerial and administrative arrangements and/or a consultancy firm of sorts, and also a common resource pool that everybody in the center can tap into. Such could relieve budgets on the individual departments and consolidate manpower, and allow development of the individuals that join the biomedical informatics department. So, suddenly, I am in awe of GIS (or maybe just Ed's or Guilliame's) foresight in putting together such a department in the first place =)

I do not think it should be a computing support unit, but rather a biocomputing support unit. If it just involves simply building IT infrastructure with no biological or clinical relevance, then this ought to be a separate group altogether. But then again, if the center is not that big enough, they could be integrated too.

Outside the academic center, however, biomedical informatics organization would probably act as a consultancy and/or educational firm or quite a buzz thing in Singapore now - contract-based. Much like CROs (contract research organizations such as Quintiles or Kendle) or just intermediaries that other organizations/research institutes/academic centers can outsource their work to (like Beijing Genomics Institute for very large scale sequencing and bioinformatics analyses).

You can also look at these options in order of their importance. I would deem the role of biomedical informatics as (A) be most important, followed by (B) and (C). So a center can acquire these resources in this order as they grow.

So, if you are getting the drift, basically, relevance is the key to deciding which is more beneficial to the center's organization of resources. Choices are relative to the needs and demands of the institution.

I think I articulated really badly that day... Kind of convoluted... But I will improve on that! =)

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