A $2 million state grant will provide seed money for setting up a wide-ranging Indianapolis research center that will combine the efforts of experts in genetics, proteomics, evidence-based medicine, mathematical modeling and database integration.
The new Center of Excellence in Computational Diagnostics will be located at the Indiana University School of Medicine under the direction of Susanne Ragg, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics and oncology at IU who is on staff at the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children.
"What we did in the center was put all these people together to improve patient care," said Ragg, who applied for the grant from the 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, which was established by the Indiana General Assembly in 1999 to help diversify the economy of the state.
Researchers working under the new center also will include scientists at Indiana University in Bloomington and Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, their departments of chemistry, library and information sciences, computer engineering and mathematics. The Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute will led its data-management expertise to the research efforts.
An initial focus of their work will be to develop blood tests to better identify biomarkers for pediatric cancer and heart disease. In addition, the German Heart Center of Munich and the Center for Biotechnology at Bielefeld University in Bielefeld, Germany, are participating in research at the center through data and sample collection.
Ragg brings to the center an eclectic educational background herself, including experience communicating in various human and professional languages.
She is a medical school graduate of University of Heidelberg, but spent her last year attending the University of Chicago. She served her residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, which is affiliated with the University of Southern California, and then served fellowships in pediatric hematology-oncology and bioinformatics. She also earned a doctorate in human genetics at Heidelberg.
Ragg says the principal researchers at the center have been working with each other for about a year analyzing data from the heart center in Germany.
"One of our goals is to be able to train people to communicate with each other," Ragg said. "I think the easiest way (to do that) is to take one project and get everyone to understand each other, to interact and read papers from each other's fields and understand what it means. It takes time and a lot of work, but the good news is, once you get through one project, it gets easier."