UAB Informatics Institute gains academic departmental status

The new Department of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science will be the 28th academic department in the Heersink School of Medicine.
Written by: Ryan McCain
Media contact: Savannah Koplon

Stream Informatics InstitueThe new Department of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science will be the 28th academic department in the Heersink School of Medicine.The Informatics Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will become an academic department following approval by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees at its April 14 meeting. The institute will be called the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science and will be housed within the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. James Cimino, M.D., current director of the Informatics Institute, will serve as the chair of the new department.

Status as an academic department will allow for the addition of full-time faculty to focus on large projects, compete for research funding in projects with informatics components, and increase the educational opportunities and programs offered.

“Many other universities have followed the natural transition from an institute to a department. UAB’s timing for this transition is opportune, following our period of healthy growth as an institute,” said Cimino, Distinguished Professor of Medicine. “The current state of the world presents biomedical informatics and data sciences with new opportunities such as advances in artificial intelligence, genomic-based learning health systems, responding to pandemics, and enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in research, education and health care.”

“As we increase our faculty and staff, I am thrilled to lead UAB’s next wave of informatics advancement by developing and applying tools and techniques to solve problems faced by researchers, practitioners and patients while training the next generation of informatics researchers,” shared Cimino.
In preparation for the transition to a department, the institute engaged with globally recognized informatics experts in 2021 to review its progress, receiving critical acclaim and the recommendation of faculty expansion.

“I’m very pleased to welcome the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science as the 28th department in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine,” said Anupam Agarwal, M.D., senior vice president of Medicine and dean of the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. “These rapidly evolving fields will transform our understanding of human health and disease and play a crucial role in accelerating biomedical research, improving patient outcomes and shaping the future of health care.”

“This transition from institute to department will pave the way for dynamic growth and collaboration in these key areas, and will help drive Disruptive Technology Empowering Precision Health, or D-TECH, one of our four strategic research focus areas. Dr. Cimino is the ideal leader to helm this transition, and I am excited to see his vision for the new department come to life,” noted Agrawal.

The expansion of faculty and trainees within the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science will enhance UAB’s reputation as a national leader in biomedical informatics and data sciences, while increasing its ability to collaborate with other university programs in need of informatics expertise.

“During our transition, we will uphold the institute’s research, education and service missions, which will seamlessly transfer to the new department,” Cimino said. “Moreover, we will initiate an ambitious recruitment program to attract dynamic faculty members specializing in clinical informatics, bioinformatics, data sciences, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and implementation science. We have already begun designing new educational programs to be taught by our current and future faculty.” 

Since its inception in 2014, the UAB Informatics Institute has competed successfully for several large grants, including the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the National COVID-19 Cohort Collaborative, the Alabama Genome Health Initiative, the All of Us Research Program and the eMERGE Consortium. The institute currently collaborates with more than 50 individual faculty housed in more than 25 units at UAB.

All faculty and financial resources associated with the Informatics Institute will be relocated to the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science as of Jan. 1, 2024.