Columbia's CAT, or Center for Advanced Technology, constantly prowls for cutting-edge information technologies developed here that can be transformed into commercial products. In the past few years, the center has successfully hunted down information management technologies in medical informatics, genomics, and computer science.
But now the center is expanding into bio-imaging, which uses radiological and other visualization technologies to show living structures at molecular, cellular, tissue, and organ levels.
The 19-year-old center, located at the Health Sciences campus, is a technology development office that links academic research with industry to assist New York's economy through job and revenue creation. It provides grants, which are matched by companies, to faculty to help turn a concept into a product.
"We give faculty a pathway to develop ideas into products that can benefit people," says Dr. Vincent Tomaselli, the center's deputy director. "We help faculty understand obstacles facing entrepreneurs and how to overcome them."
Led by Dr. Edward H. Shortliffe, professor and chairman of medical informatics at P&S and director of the CAT, the center is a joint effort of the Department of Medical Informatics, the Columbia Genome Center, and the Department of Computer Science. Dr. Kathleen McKeown, professor and chairwoman of computer science at the Morningside Heights campus, and Dr. James J. Cimino, professor of medical informatics and medicine at P&S, are both managing directors of the center, and Dr. Yves Lussier, assistant professor of medical informatics at P&S, is the associate deputy director.
To broaden its scientific base, earlier this year, the CAT forged a relationship with the Bio-Imaging Group in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint program between P&S and Columbia's engineering school.
In July, the center began funding three bio-imaging projects for Columbia researchers working with General Electric, Philips, and NIRx of Glen Head, N.Y., a small company developing an imaging device for human joints and small animals.
GE is working with Columbia to improve magnetic resonance fluoroscopy brain imaging. Philips Medical Systems is collaborating with Columbia to train graduate students and study imaging problems.
The center also is supporting a new project by Dr. Peter Allen, professor of computer science, who is working with Dr. Dennis Fowler, professor of clinical surgery at P&S and Cornell-Weill Medical College, to improve imaging techniques for computer-assisted surgery.
The centerone of 15 such centers funded by the New York State Office of Science, Technology, and Academic Researchregularly reassesses its focus to adapt to the changing technology landscape. Only three years ago, the center enlarged its scope from computer science and medical informatics to computational biology and genomics at the Columbia Genome Center.
Medical informatics and genome center researchers have collaborated to develop several natural language processing technologies that hold promise for commercial use.
To better reflect CAT's expanded purview, the center directors recently decided to rename the unit. It is still a state-funded CAT but its official name now is the Center for Advanced Information Management.
The center also has augmented its leadership externally and internally. The center tripled its external advisory board this year from four to 12 people to include specialists in informatics, genomics, medical products, pharmaceuticals, and financial services. The board now includes members from Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson Services, IBM, Ernst & Young, and Columbia Business School. The internal board of directors added Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach, executive vice president and dean, and Dr. T. Conrad Gilliam, director of the Columbia Genome Center and John E. Borne Professor of Genetics & Development at P&S.
Building bridges on and off campus should ultimately help the university, industry, and the local economy.
"The changes we've made in the past year are enabling us to better serve the state and Columbia by bringing more experts from research and industry together," Dr. Tomaselli says. "Already we're reaching more faculty and accelerating the development of technology."