As large-scale human health databases and biobanks are fueling drug discovery and the development of new therapies, Bohdan Khomtchouk, Ph.D., (right), assistant professor of bioinformatics in the Department of BioHealth Informatics at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, is working with students in his lab to bring bioinformatics and computational methods to the study of heart disease, the No. 1 global killer.
Khomtchouk’s mentorship already is having a substantial impact on graduates of the bioinformatics program. One of his research students from the University of Chicago, Yoon Seo Lee, is beginning her Ph.D. studies in biomedical engineering at Harvard University this fall.
Another student, Simranjit Kaur Virk (left), has worked as part of the Janga Lab with Luddy Indianapolis Associate Professor Sarath Chandra Janga. Virk is graduating this December after a successful summer of research with the Khomtchouk lab as part of the IU DataWiz Scholars Program. Funded by the National Library of Medicine, the program is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Each student was responsible for helping the lab continue to develop a world-class research program in the field of cardioinformatics.
“By enabling clinicians and researchers to leverage the power of modern computing technology and big data to enhance patient care and medical knowledge, cardioinformatics is essential to advancing medicine in what is currently the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.”
Bohdan Khomtchouk, Ph.D.
“Cardioinformatics approaches can help health care professionals understand the relationships between cardiovascular health and other physiological systems, such as the kidneys and metabolism, and provide insights into how to more effectively diagnose, treat, and manage these complex diseases. That’s why we focus on it,” says Khomtchouk.
This summer, Khomtchouk was nationally recognized with a prestigious appointment to the editorial board of Circulation: Genomic and Precision Medicine, the American Heart Association’s flagship computational journal, and mentored several historically underrepresented minority students in the BioHealth Informatics program. Every spring, Khomtchouk teaches B556 Biological Database Management at Luddy Indianapolis and frequently invites his classroom students to join his lab after completion of the course.
Last spring, student Nelson Luis Badia Garrido helped Khomtchouk write a 12,000-word scholarly teaching article on biobank design—currently under peer review at a high-impact journal—after having finished that course.
“Giving our IU students access to unique research and training opportunities, especially those leading to co-authorship and publication, is an important mission of my lab,” said Khomtchouk, “and essential for diversity, equity, and inclusion both at our university and beyond.”
Exciting opportunities for biomedical innovation
Khomtchouk’s students are collaborating with him in the interdisciplinary field of cardioinformatics. Through his lab’s research program they’re collecting, managing, and analyzing large amounts of data that can lead to new insights into what causes cardiac abnormalities. These include associated renal and metabolic co-morbidities such as kidney diseases or diabetes, and how to diagnose and treat these complex disorders in the precision medicine context.
Khomtchouk’s article in the June 2023 issue of the journal Circulation: Genomic and Precision Medicine, “Cardioinformatics Advancements in Healthcare and Biotechnology,” theorizes this type of research could one day transform public health through more personalized and improved cardiac therapies.
“By enabling clinicians and researchers to leverage the power of modern computing technology and big data to enhance patient care and medical knowledge,” says Khomtchouk, “cardioinformatics is essential to advancing medicine in what is currently the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.”
Everything is connected
Cardioinformatics focuses on the heart and vascular system and relates to personalized medicine and precision cardiology.
But it’s far more than that. “The field is an interdisciplinary constellation of other intersecting medical specialties in the broader precision medicine arena,” Khomtchouk says.
“For example, cardiovascular disease can be a result of, or a contributor to, metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes.”
Khomtchouk is a multi-principal investigator for “Molecular Genetics of Hereditary Endoplasmic Reticulum Diabetes,” a research project funded by an NIH Research Project Grant (R01) through 2026.
A biorepository for the future
It’s not only data that’s being collected.
“In addition, we’ve been building a new biobank of rare diabetes patients along with our R01 collaborators led by Dr. Fumihiko Urano at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis,” says Khomtchouk, “and digitizing that human health and well-being information in a biological database that we use to search for novel drug targets and understand biological mechanisms and outcomes.”
Establishing such a digital collection of biological samples at IU Indianapolis offers a valuable resource for research projects, such as those involving precision medicine, drug discovery, and DNA.
In addition, Khomtchouk notes, “Studies have often included the use of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other advanced biostatistical and computational techniques to analyze complex biomedical datasets and develop predictive models that can inform clinical decision-making.”