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Our History 

The Department of Biomedical Informatics was founded in the summer of 2009 with support from UC San Diego's Department of Medicine, Medical Center, and the Dean of the School of Medicine. Our rapidly growing unit is the first in the UC system to be structured like more traditional divisions in Schools of Medicine -- having the tri-partite mission of research, training, and service/collaboration. We are the only BMI division in the UC system to have dedicated tenure-line state-funded positions. In contrast to most clinical divisions, our “clinical service” does not preferentially target patients (consumers) or referring physicians. Instead, DBMI designs, implements, and evaluates informatics algorithms and systems that serve these users, additionally providing services to biomedical researchers, other healthcare providers, and public health professionals.
Professor Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, PhD, MBA, FACMI was the founding chief of DBMI, a division in the Department of Medicine and a UCSD Health department. DBMI operates across multiple departments and organized research units in the School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Engineering/Computer Science. Dr. Ohno-Machado’s research is focused in predictive modeling, with a particular emphasis on calibration methods for personalized medicine that combine phenotype and genotype/gene expression data. Prior to her role in San Diego, she was the director of the Harvard-MIT-Tufts-Boston University training program consortium, for which she helped develop and implement the master’s degree curriculum in BMI. This program, offered by the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, was primarily for clinicians who were being trained in informatics. Over a period of thirteen years at Harvard, she developed two new courses and taught every core curriculum course, one or more annually. She mentored 17 NLM-funded postdoctoral trainees and 19 postdoctoral fellows funded by other sources. At UC San Diego, she successfully re-competed for the Biomedical Research Informatics in Global Health Training (BRIGHT) program, a program she had directed for the past 10 years at Harvard, which is funded by the Fogarty International Center, NIH.
Within the first year after its inception, DBMI recruited staff and developed the first full-quarter BMI courses at UC San Diego; designed the BMI component of the new medical school curriculum; admitted the first graduate student and postdoctoral fellow in BMI; and competed successfully for NIH-funded grants and other investigator-initiated research awards. Also in its first year, through partnerships with other divisions and centers DBMI faculty received the following major awards:
  • National Center for Biomedical Computing (NCBC) -- Integrating Data for Analysis, Anonymization, and SHaring (iDASH)
  • Distributed Research Network (DRN) award, funded by AHRQ -- SCAlable National Network for Effectiveness Research (SCANNER)
  • Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) Informatics Core
  • Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Informatics Core
  • San Diego Beacon Community Project, funded by the ONC for Healthcare IT
Following these successes, DBMI began to play a major role in organizing informatics in the UC system, helping create the UC-Research eXchange (UC-ReX) initiative that encompasses all medical schools and medical centers in five of its ten units (UCLA, UCSF, UC Irvine, UC Davis, and UC San Diego). The goal of this initiative is to develop infrastructure and tools to allow clinical and research data to be shared seamlessly among the UC units and collaborating partners. It serves as an excellent setting for trainees to learn about health information exchange and secondary use of data.
In 2010, DBMI faculty began teaching the new curriculum and recruited program managers, programmer analysts, graduate student researchers, undergraduate assistants, postdoctoral fellows, and additional administrative support. Additional faculty were recruited to complete core competencies in critical areas, bringing complementary expertise in natural language processing, imaging, and implementation science, and strengthening the existing expertise in clinical decision support and evaluation methods. UCSD's CTSA was awarded this year, and its informatics core is organized by DBMI.
In 2011, the concentration in biomedical informatics was approved for the programs leading to (1) a master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering and (2) a Ph.D. degree in Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, and the first students were enrolled. Courses from DBMI were also incorporated into the curriculum for the Masters in Advanced Studies in Clinical Research program. The UC-ReX consortium was funded by the UC Office of the President.
In July, 2012 DBMI was awarded the NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM) biomedical informatics training grant. This five-year grant supports a total of 15 biomedical informatics trainees, including pre-doctoral Bioinformatics PhD students and post-doctoral MD’s pursuing the Masters in Clinical Research. We recruited 6 pre-doctoral and 3 postdoctoral trainees on the training grant in 2012 and 2013, in addition to 3 pre-doctoral and 4 post-doctoral fellows funded by research grants, and are now recruiting. More information on the NLM fellowship program and how to apply.
In 2022, Dr. Ohno-Machado embraced a new initiative with Yale University and resigned her role as division chief in November 2022 and Amy Sitapati, MD became DBMI's interim division chief.