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University of Illinois and Mayo Clinic create research alliance


Diana Yates, U of I News Bureau, and Robert Nellis, Mayo Clinic

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Mayo Clinic are forming a strategic alliance designed to promote a broad spectrum of collaborative research, the development of new technologies and clinical tools, and the design and implementation of novel education programs. Officials from the university and the clinic recently signed an agreement establishing the formal relationship.

The alliance provides a framework for broad cooperation in individualized medicine by integrating efforts in three areas: basic, translational, and clinical research; bioengineering, especially for point-of-care diagnostics; and the development of tools and methods in computational biology and medicine.

Ilesanmi Adesida
Ilesanmi Adesida

“We are very excited about the Illinois-Mayo alliance for several reasons," stated Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the College of Engineering. "Together, we have the intellectual resources to explore new opportunities for combining medical imaging, point-of-care sensing, bioinformatics, genomics, and computational biology to create realistic and affordable solutions to individualized medicine. The alliance also expands greatly our joint educational program capabilities for training the next generation of systems engineers and physicians who will put these exciting new technologies quickly into clinical practice.” 

“We are utterly delighted to be working with Illinois,” said Dr. Franklyn Prendergast, the director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine. “We have worked diligently over the past 18 months to get to this point."

Rashid Bashir
Rashid Bashir

"Since our initial meeting in fall 2008, the idea was to (broadly-speaking) collaborate in research and educational efforts that address the grand challenges for the future individualized medicine and health care,” explained ECE Professor Rashid Bashir, who is also a professor of bioengineering and the director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. “Dr. Prendergast and the Mayo Clinic were interested because Illinois excels in computational medicine, bioengineering, and genomic technologies, as well as joint educational initiatives that would benefit both sides.”

“What now emerges is a plan that builds on complementary capabilities of the two institutions in science and medicine honed and strengthened by the similarities in our Midwestern cultures and values,” added Prendergast, who is also a member of the College of Engineering Board of Visitors.

Initial areas of scientific focus for the alliance will include projects in genomics, the microbiome, bioinformatics, and other computational science including the use of petascale computing, imaging, nanotechnology, and tissue engineering. Planning is also under way for bilateral educational programs in bioengineering, computational medicine nanotechnology, genomics innovation, and entrepreneurism. The number of collaborative projects is expected to grow even faster in response to the announcement of a request for applications for a planning grant for joint programs.

"In a way, this is a formal acknowledgment of a relationship we have been developing for a while now," explained Michael Insana, head of the Department of Bioengineering at Illinois. "For example, one of our faculty members, Jian Ma, who is a computational biologist, uses next-generation sequencing technologies to describe the complexity of cancer genomes. He has been working with David I. Smith at Mayo Clinic to develop computational tools to handle massive amount of sequence data in order to identify genomic aberration patterns associated with carcinogenesis."

The alliance intends eventually also to co-sponsor a variety of symposia and seminars, the first of which was held earlier this spring. The alliance expects to be sustained long term by funding from federal grants and philanthropy and from a variety of entrepreneurial projects involving commercialization of collaboratively generated intellectual property and agreements with corporate partners.

About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is the first and largest integrated, not-for-profit group practice in the world. More than 3,700 physicians and scientists and 50,100 allied staff work at Mayo Clinic’s campuses in Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona; and community-based providers work in more than 70 locations in southern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. These locations treat more than half a million people each year.