UConn announces first faculty appointment with Jackson Lab, a mathematician-biologist

A mathematician whose work has evolved to focus on advancing biomedical research will be the first faculty member to hold a joint appointment with the UConn Health Center and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, the health center announced Monday.

Reinhard Laubenbacher will serve as co-director for the health center’s new Center for Quantitative Medicine and as a professor in the Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling. He previously worked at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, part of Virginia Tech, and served in the university’s mathematics and biomedical engineering departments.

Laubenbacher is the first of 10 faculty members expected to be jointly appointed between UConn and the Jackson genomic medicine institute, a center being developed by the Maine-based Jackson Laboratory with $291 million in state funds. The institute is expected to hire 30 principal investigators, who will each have their own research projects and staff, by 2020.

The Jackson Lab has a long history of research focused on understanding biology using the mouse as a model. Jackson’s Connecticut institute, based on the health center’s Farmington campus, is focused on “personalized medicine,” researching ways to better tailor treatments to the specific characteristics of a person’s disease or genetic makeup.

Dr. Frank Torti, the health center’s executive vice president for health affairs, said in a statement that Laubenbacher “has the right skill sets” for the health center as it begins its partnership with Jackson.

“Biology is progressively becoming a quantitative science that requires mathematical strategies to unravel its secrets,” Dr. Edison Liu, Jackson’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Laubenbacher’s work involves developing mathematic algorithms to be used in software that can help researchers address biomedical questions.

Technology has made it possible to sequence the human genome — that is, determine the exact code for a person’s genetic makeup — relatively quickly and inexpensively. That generates a massive amount of data, and one of the key challenges in the field now is figuring out how to make sense of it.

Laubenbacher said in a statement that the new center he will co-direct will be focused on “quantitative approaches to medicine,” bringing together people in multiple fields and focusing in particular on analyzing large data sets. They will also work with clinical researchers to help drug development and testing efforts, he said.

Jackson is building a 189,000-square-foot facility on the health center campus that’s slated to open next fall.