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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, June 4, 2007

Harvard bioinformatics team leaving for Houston

A leading scientist who directed research programs at Harvard Medical School and at Brigham and Womenís Hospital is leaving Boston and taking about 20 researchers with him to develop a bioinformatics program in Houston.

stephen_wong150.bmpStephen Wong (left) is leaving his posts as director of the Center for Bioinformatics in the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Functional and Molecular Imaging Center at Brigham and Womenís. He has been an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and part of the neuro-oncology and cancer imaging programs at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

On July 1 he will become chief of medical physics and vice chair of radiology at The Methodist Hospital and director of the bioinformatics program at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute. He will join the faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College, which became the hospitalís academic affiliate after it dissolved ties with Baylor University three years ago.

"This was not an easy decision to make. I think Harvard is wonderful," Wong said in an interview today. "I do think the opportunity in Houston is big. Itís a fantastic opportunity to be in on the infrastructure."

Wong said he was drawn to Methodist by Dr. King Li, with whom he had worked on molecular imaging. Li was the chief of diagnostic radiology at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center before becoming chair of radiology at Methodist last year.

At Methodist, Wong will build a program to use information that comes from imaging and other biomedical technologies to devise diagnostic tests and treatments. He said he envisions a sort of human GPS system for interventional medicine, in which imaging guides individualized treatments.

Wong has a background in business that includes working for computer company HP and developing the online trading arm of stock broker Charles Schwab. He also worked on a digital image archive system at the University of California at San Francisco. He was recruited from industry three years ago to create the functional and molecular imaging center at the Brigham, Dr. Steven Seltzer, chair of radiology, said in an interview today.

"Steveís a very talented Ph.D. scientist," he said. "As disappointed as we are to lose him, itís a very exciting opportunity for Steve and for them."

Seltzer said the number of people transferring with Wong is "on the large side," calling it a testament to the resources Methodist has been able to put together. He said all but one of the Brigham people leaving with Wong are graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. Wong said the total number of people moving south with him is about 20. He will also take with him $4 million in NIH grants.

"Our backfill strategy is that talented folks are still here and some will be promoted into positions of new responsibility," Seltzer said. "We will in turn be looking at graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. We have the richness of the intellectual capital in the Boston area."

Wong said he will maintain the collaborations he has with 25 different labs in Boston.

"Science has no boundaries, so physical location doesnít matter," he said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:50 PM
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