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Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP)

The Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP) is a multidisciplinary applied research program. CHIP investigators, directed by Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, work at the intersection of information science, healthcare and biomedical discovery. CHIP projects fall into three major areas: bioinformatics, clinical informatics and public health informatics/biosurveillance.

CHIP's diverse faculty includes physicians with training in information science, computer scientists with expertise in the biomedical sciences, mathematicians and epidemiologists. CHIP encourages collaboration and provides shared resources to develop new information technologies--with the three central goals of enhancing biomedical research, improving patient care and promoting public health. CHIP also serves as the bioinformatics core for several national genomics investigations.

Our Mission

Research in the Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP) spans a wide range of problems in biology, medicine and public health. To understand and help solve these problems, we utilize a variety of genomic and proteomic data, as well as individual and population-level disease information, and develop innovative hardware and software technologies.

Bioinformatics

The Human Genome Project has produced a database of human genes and other DNA sequences that is so vast and complex that it cannot be interpreted without the aid of computational techniques. At CHIP, we are involved in many collaborative and independent research projects that are mining medically useful information from this database, analyzing it and interpreting it. Currently, our bioinformatics and functional genomics group--the largest in Boston and among the first to enter the field--is working on over a dozen NIH-funded investigations of gene activity in diseases ranging from diabetes to heart failure to children's brain cancer. (To read more about this work, visit the Bioinformatics and Macrobiology pages of the CHIP website.)

A major challenge in our biomedical studies -- and those of other groups -- is gathering human tissue samples in sufficient quantities for statistical analysis. Thus, we seek to promote collaboration across institutions and give individual researchers access to more samples than they would be able to collect on their own.

We have done this in several ways. We have developed the Shared Pathology Informatics Network (SPIN), funded by the National Cancer Institute. A second initiative, called i2b2 (Informatics for Integrating Biology with the Beside), is developing new ways to take more extensive advantage of the large amounts of clinical data that already exist (and often go unused) and combining it with newly-acquired genomic data to facilitate the process of biomedical discovery. This is particularly useful in diseases which have different underlying genetic causes in different patients and require more individualized treatments.

In addition, CHIP is part of the team leading The Gene Partnership, a transformative initiative that promises to unravel the root causes of complex conditions by analyzing genetic data, clinical and environmental factors.

CHIP is also affiliated with the Center for Biomedical Informatics (CBMI) at Harvard Medical School.

Clinical Informatics

Our work in clinical informatics spans a wide range of problems in patient care and clinical research--from innovations in medical record keeping and diagnostic software for doctors to issues of research participants having a chance to benefit from their own data.

Although medical records have been computerized for decades, patients still have very little access to these records, and there is surprisingly little information-sharing between health care plans. As a result, medical decisions are often made with incomplete information. Together with the Clinical Decision Making Group at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, we have developed a secure, lifelong personally controlled health record (PCHR) system that turns control over to the patient: Indivo. The nationally recognized software platform is built to public standards and is made available as open-source code for wide adoption. Using this platform, Indivo has already developed and deployed PCHR systems in real-life settings—including our own MyChildren's portal--and has been adopted by others, such as Dossia, a consortium of major employers including Intel and Wal-Mart.

We are also leading a predictive medicine venture called Intelligent Histories. The vast amounts of longitudinal data accumulating in electronic health information systems present an untapped opportunity to improve medical screening and diagnosis. The Intelligent Histories project finds new ways of using this information, to predict people's future medical risks and help doctors choose preventive interventions. Recently, for instance, CHIP researchers have shown that "intelligent" medical histories can allow doctors to detect domestic abuse faster than traditional diagnostic methods.

In addition to these initiatives targeting patient care and diagnostics, we are keenly interested in improving clinical research. The newly-launched Gene Partnership program, involving collaborations across multiple departments at Children's, is a notable example. This program aims to find the root causes of common, complex genetic diseases, by combining clinical data with personal data from PCHRs in a large number of participants. The Gene Partnership will facilitate many new longitudinal and prospective studies that advance both basic and translational research, while offering participants the unique opportunity to partner with researchers, access research findings pertinent to their own health and receive personalized care.

Public Health Informatics

In the arena of public health, CHIP has developed biosurveillance systems for hospitals, internet-based nationwide and global disease tracking efforts and social networking tools that promote positive health habits.

Our scientists have created biosurveillance software that is now part of daily emergency department operations at Boston Children's Hospital. Our systems can monitor the population for bioterrorist attacks as well as ordinary disease outbreaks, such as flu. The systems use information-filtering techniques to minimize time-consuming, expensive "false alarms." Surveillance systems can also detect "clusters" of disease in particular geographic areas that could signal an environmental problem.

In a large-scale project funded by the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, CHIP led the development of AEGIS (Automated Epidemiologic Geotemporal Integrated Surveillance System). AEGIS integrates a wide range of data collected across institutions and different geographic regions, and analyzes them with computer algorithms--detecting abnormal disease clusters in real time and space.

We are also leading efforts to track disease outbreaks nationally and globally using online tools. A key example is HealthMap--a unique website that integrates and maps real-time disease data from various Internet sources, including blogs, listservs, chatrooms, curated sources such as ProMED, Google searches and online news reports. Recently, 1 million people used HealthMap to track the spread of the H1N1 influenza across nations and continents, demonstrating the global epidemiological power of this resource. Recent HealthMap innovations include real-time Twitter updates and the iPhone application Outbreaks Near Me. (Read more.)

We recently united with TuDiabetes, an online community of people affected by diabetes, to launch TuAnalyze, a tool that tracks diabetes metrics of people across the U.S. on an interactive map. We are also applying informatics globally to develop new strategies for managing healthcare in developing countries, with a particular interest in infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS.

Another important public health venture of CHIP is HealthySocial, a project that aims to use social networks to promote positive health habits. Two recent examples--both commended by the White House--are the "I'm a Flu Fighter!" application on Facebook, and FoodHero, a video game that promotes good nutrition.

Contact Us

Click here for the Informatics Program director and administrator's contact information, as well as directions.

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