ALBANY – A group of hospitals and universities in Buffalo and Albany are forming a coalition with IBM to collaborate on research efforts to tackle pressing health care issues – from helping physicians better and more quickly diagnose patients to developing new techniques to map the human brain to better understand Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
The consortium, announced Monday in Albany, seeks to formalize ways to end often overlapping research that ends up competing for limited federal and private research funding while at the same time figuring ways to tap into IBM’s Watson supercomputer to help front-line health care providers.
“Bringing this across the state is really critical,’’ said Matthew Enstice, president of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which is teaming with the Jacobs Institute in Buffalo and the Albany area’s SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University at Albany and the state Health Department’s Wadsworth Center. IBM, which houses its Watson supercomputer near Albany, downstate and several locations around the world, will be partnering with the new consortium.
“This is getting the right minds in the room, and we’ll see where it goes,’’ he added.
Michael Cadigan, general manager of IBM’s microelectronics, systems and technology group and a University at Buffalo microelectronics graduate, said he envisions development of a system that would help doctors more quickly and effectively go through a patient’s medical history and tap into a data file – with the help of Watson’s unique cognitive-type abilities – to determine a best course of treatment with specific odds of effectiveness.
The immediate push for the consortium’s creation was President Obama’s recent announcement to add $40 million in new federal funding for a brain-mapping initiative. “We have done some wonderful work here at Albany Medical Center with brain mapping. I know the Buffalo campus has done the same. Why should we apply as competitors for these kinds of funds?” said James Barba, president of Albany Medical Center, which hosted the new group’s formation on Monday. It will include protocols to ensure fair distribution of grant funding received and protection of intellectual property rights for new innovations and inventions.
Barba said he envisions other universities, hospitals and private companies joining the consortium. “We all need to contribute the brain power of our best scientists and physicians to take on the problems that we define those most in need of immediate attention or long-range attention,’’ he said.
Besides IBM’s role, the initiative represents a further broadening into the life sciences field for Albany’s renowned nanotechnology college, which is part of the state university system. Backers say the idea of the Buffalo and Albany institutions creating a new health care consortium feeds on an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to get upstate campuses and private-sector partners to stop working against each other by forming new cooperative efforts that officials believe will spawn new life sciences innovations and create jobs.