Center for Excellenece On Time Despite Late State Budget



Despite the New York State Legislature's leisurely pace in producing its tardy annual budget, UB and the city of Buffalo are moving in tandem toward establishing the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics.

Until the legislature passes the final budget, which is expected to set aside $75 million in startup funds for the center, however, administrators and researchers can only steadily lay the groundwork for an area of study ripe with opportunities for both UB students and the local economy.

Despite the missing state funds, "We're moving ahead, we know that this has to happen here," said George Detitta, chairman of the structural biology department at UB and CEO of the Hauptman-Woodman Research Institute. He added, "The mayor and the city have really stepped up to the plate. ... They know that Buffalo and UB have excellent resources in the required fields that need to be used."

The proposed center will be located near its main partner, the Center for Computational Research, on UB's North Campus, to facilitate the collaboration between the fields of computer science and genetic research. The grouping develops new medical techniques and treatments based on efficient supercomputing methods for manipulating large sets of data.

Deitta believes the union creates a perfect avenue for local and institutional growth.

"We have a very energetic computer science and engineering department, and a very invested biological science department," said Detitta. "Buffalo is also blessed by being a very wired city, with a lot of bright minds working in information and technology."

He added that Buffalo's medical research community is already heavily involved in projects that will benefit from the center's aide, such as Roswell Park Cancer Institute's DNA micro-array facility, which maps DNA changes in tissue between healthy and diseased stages.

Jaylan Turkkan, vice president of research at UB, said the center has been "busy lining up our corporate partners," since its announcement last year and that "recruitment of researchers and staff is moving hot and heavy."

The delay, said Turkkan, "hasn't slowed things at all." She added that although the center's current corporate agreements are only "first-stage partnerships," it intends to "keep our old partnerships and be ready for new ones" until full support has been pledged.

Details of the corporate sponsorships, including company names, are currently under negotiation and are not yet public.

Turkkan said that they are, however, beneficial in "a somewhat finicky technology market," where "the best name in technology can change at any time."

UB is now working to develop courses in the infant field, which requires a knowledge set spanning varied disciplines, so that students can be on the cutting edge of the center's research.

"It's a growing field, one that requires students who can speak the language of mathematics, programming, bio-chemistry and new research techniques," said Bruce Pittman, vice provost for educational technology.

Pittman, who is working to create what will eventually become the bioinformatics department, said that new programs, both undergraduate and graduate, will provide Buffalo with the young talent necessary for revitalization.

"The academic plans are moving forward, regardless of when the state comes together with its support ... Students in the new programs will be fully prepared to move into the field," Pittman said.

Pittman says the field will has a "wonderful outlook over the next 10 years," and predicts the burgeoning new industry will prove a boon to Buffalo's piecemeal economic growth.

"As the biotech industry grows, we're working towards filling the market here in Buffalo," said Pittman.