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Last modified: Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Medical school scientist to lead IU Bioinformatics Program

August 23, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS -- An internationally renowned bioinformatics expert at the Indiana University School of Medicine will share his expertise and leadership with the IU School of Informatics.

A. Keith Dunker, professor of biochemistry and of molecular biology, has been appointed director of the School of Informatics' Bioinformatics Program at the Bloomington and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis campuses. He also will continue as director of the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at the School of Medicine.

Keith Dunker photo

A. Keith Dunker

Bioinformatics is the application of computer technology and information sciences in biomedical research. This discipline enables scientists to gather and analyze huge volumes of data, information critical in life sciences and genetic research. Bioinformatics allows scientists to more rapidly develop therapeutic drugs and effective treatments for disease.

"Dr. Dunker has tremendous stature, and his appointment strengthens our already robust academic and research activities," said IU School of Informatics Dean J. Michael Dunn. "Bioinformatics is an ever-evolving, fast-paced field, and our researchers are working side-by-side with other IU scientists to further the university's research goals."

Bioinformatics plays a major role in IU's Life Sciences Strategic Plan (, which includes the development of bioinformatics and chemical informatics as major areas of strength in the School of Informatics. Certainly, the School of Medicine -- the second largest medical school in the nation -- has the leading role in advancing IU's overall life sciences goals.

"Keith Dunker's additional role in the School of Informatics not only makes sense thematically, but it also serves as a tangible bridge between the schools of medicine and of informatics, and between Indianapolis and Bloomington," said School of Medicine Dean D. Craig Brater, who also is IU's vice president with life sciences responsibilities. "Thus, it allows us to benefit from a breadth of talent and creates the foundation for even greater programs in the future consistent with our ambitious goals in the life sciences."

Dunker, who was recruited to IU in 2003 from Washington State University, focuses his research on the relationship between the lack of protein folding and function, which has important implications in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Analyzing these proteins with bioinformatics is leading to a major change in understanding protein structure and function.

"Biology, genetics and medicine are all information sciences, and bioinformatics provides a way to synergize these previously partitioned disciplines," said Dunker. "IU's life sciences plan, BioCrossroads, Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, and the recently-announced Big Red supercomputer at IU add substantially to this remarkable opportunity."

Bioinformatics is one of six cornerstone scientific programs of the medical school-centered Indiana Genomics Initiative, established in 2000 by a $105 million gift from the Lilly Endowment, which followed three years later with an additional $50 million grant.

In 2004 IU Bloomington received a $53 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to expand and intensify basic research at the cellular level. The Indiana Metabolomics and Cytomics Initiative, better known as METACyt, significantly complements life sciences research currently under way at the School of Medicine.

Dunker replaces Gary Wiggins, adjunct professor, who was serving as interim director of the Bioinformatics Program. Wiggins will continue leading the School's Chemical Informatics Program.

Sun Kim, assistant professor, retains his position as associate director of the Bioinformatics Program at Bloomington. Malika Mahoui, assistant professor, will serve as interim associate director of bioinformatics at IUPUI.

The IU School of Informatics offers graduate degrees in bioinformatics and a doctoral program focused in that discipline.