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Found in Translation

Windber research pioneers the next generation in translational medicine.

by Jeff Erickson, May 2007
Windber, Pennsylvania-based Windber Medical Center prides itself on providing excellent care to its patients and answering critical questions about medical treatments and associated risks. Windber clinicians credit a new approach to translational medicine and powerful software built on Oracle Database 10g to enable the medical center to offer improved answers and enhanced care. Traditionally, translational medicine refers to the process of taking results from a laboratory experiment and translating those results into data that can be utilized to care for patients. Windber Research Institute (WRI), a partner of the Windber Medical Center and an innovator in data-intensive biomedical research, uses a pioneering approach. Michael Liebman, executive director of WRI says, "We focus on working with clinicians to identify the problems they see on a day-to-day basis, when the patient is sitting in the room with them, and then move the problem back to the research bench. Now, when a researcher brings all his or her expertise and technology to bear on a research problem, the solution has an immediate use in the clinic."

Read how WRI, in tandem with InforSense, an innovator in integrative analytics technology, depends on Oracle Database to integrate data from diverse sources, including hospitals, research institutes, healthcare providers, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies—all with different IT systems. In addition, Oracle Database provides the critical ability to ensure the security of highly sensitive medical data. Oracle Database 10g minimizes movement of data in and out of the database, significantly reducing security risks.

When patients diagnosed with cancer or heart disease walk into the Windber, Pennsylvania-based Windber Medical Center, they ask questions about choice of therapies and associated risks. Now, armed with a new take on translational medicine and powerful software built on Oracle Database 10g, Windber clinicians can provide better answers—and more-effective care.

Translational medicine has been defined as the process of taking results from a laboratory experiment and converting them into information that can be used for patient care. Windber Research Institute (WRI), a partner of the Windber Medical Center and a pioneer in data-intensive biomedical research, is now turning this system on its head.

"We focus on working with clinicians to identify the problems they see on a day-to-day basis, when the patient is sitting in the room with them, and then move the problem back to the research bench," says Michael Liebman, executive director of WRI. "Now, when a researcher brings all his or her expertise and technology to bear on a research problem, the solution has an immediate use in the clinic." The benefits of WRI's approach are enormous: patients benefit faster from cutting-edge research, and researchers get invaluable clinical data to support, clarify, and refine further research.

A Range of Datasources


The quality and quantity of WRI's patient data sets it apart from most other research institutes. WRI benefits from close ties with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which collects a high volume of information about patients such as details about a patient's exposure to chemicals and whether the patient smokes or drinks alcohol. These researchers also have access to a huge set of clinical data, including tissue samples, genomics, proteomics, and imaging data from mammographies and ultrasound, PET, CT, and MRI scans, as well as pathology images. "We've built a patient-centric data model that integrates all of that data and makes it available to our researchers," says Liebman.

"We have a lot of different disciplines looking at any given problem," says Liebman. "At the same time, we're looking at the clinical data. We're looking at the socioeconomic data. We're looking at the psychological information. We're looking at how patients respond to a range of treatments. We're even looking at things like how patients respond to being told that they're high-risk or low-risk," he adds.

WRI then takes this data set and adds one more dimension. "We treat patients as a collection of longitudinal information," say Liebman. "A disease is a process that takes place over time. Our patients are changing while they have the disease. It's an important aspect to look at, but very few places are doing it. We need to understand how patients' aging processes will impact their responses to a therapy or their suscepti-bility to other diseases."

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