Cresko Named UO Director for Center for Biomedical Data Science

Cresko Named UO Director for Center for Biomedical Data Science

A computational biologist with biological data science expertise, Cresko will lead UO’s portion of the center, a collaborative effort with OHSU to attack deadly diseases with big data 

The Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact has announced that Bill Cresko will serve as director of the UO’s Center for Biomedical Data Science. A collaboration with Oregon Health & Science University, the joint center was founded with a goal of empowering researchers at both institutions to leverage biomedical data science to detect and fight deadly diseases caused by cellular dysfunction, such as cancer. The UO center housed in the Knight Campus was fueled by a $10 million gift from Mary and Tim Boyle.

“Together we are building a bridge between the Knight Campus and the Knight Cancer Institute, that integrates our complementary strengths, brings UO and OHSU closer together, increases student training in biomedical data science and creates industry partnerships that benefit society,” said Cresko, Lorry Lokey Chair and professor of bioengineering.

Bill Cresko

The UO center will eventually be housed in Knight Campus Building 2 when it opens in early 2026. Additionally, Cresko says, center researchers will develop new “multi-omics” approaches that integrate data collection and analysis tools like machine learning across multiple levels of biology to empower the study of health and disease.

 “Cells are constantly talking to one another using different signals, and our goal is to ‘listen in’ to detect and treat diseases earlier, faster and better,” Cresko said.

A member of the UO Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Cresko will help connect the Knight Campus to UO researchers in the biological sciences and other areas, including the recently launched School of Computer and Data Sciences. He founded a Genomics and Bioinformatics program that is now part of the Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program and previously served as the executive director of the UO’s Presidential Initiative in Data Science. Cresko’s own research involves using quantitative genomics to understand how molecular genetic variation can modify networks of genes and proteins to produce variation in evolutionarily important traits, as well as diseases in humans such as cancer.  

“With his deep ties to UO researchers in the biological sciences, his expertise in computational biology and long track record in developing genomic tools and super-computing software, we are thrilled that Professor Cresko has agreed to lead this Knight-to-Knight partnership with OHSU,” said Bob Guldberg, vice president and Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Knight Campus.  

Cresko is working collaboratively with the Knight Cancer Institute’s Sadik Esener, who was named interim director of OHSU’s program in October 2023, in coordination with Xubo Song and Emek Demir, who were named scientific co-directors. Together, they are focused on some initial priority areas for both programs, including supporting research involving image analysis using artificial intelligence and using single cell biology approaches to study diseases; integrating recently hired UO and OHSU faculty into the center, building supercomputing tools and large databases for collaborative research, supporting graduate students and postdoctoral scholars; and applying for funding from the National Institutes of Health to develop the center as a national hub for diversifying the computational genomics and data science workforce.  

Looking ahead, Cresko and Esener will focus on coordinating recruitment of faculty at OHSU and UO to work together, refining research program areas and directions and submitting a large grant proposal to develop a National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence.

“We want to encourage strong collaboration and interaction with interested physicians and faculty across OHSU and the University of Oregon,” said Esener. “We will leverage each institution’s strengths to accelerate our combined research efforts, to, ultimately, make the greatest impact.”

Cresko’s new role carries with it a faculty appointment in the Knight Campus Department of Bioengineering where he will teach courses in areas such as biostatistics, foundations in machine learning and quantitative genomics for bioengineers. In addition to his new role within the Knight Campus, he will be a conduit for collaboration with other data scientists across the university.

“The Center for Biomedical Data Science is a nucleus that will enable new opportunities to integrate the latest quantitative and computational approaches into our research and training,” Cresko said. “In the process of building a bridge with OHSU, we will also harmonize activities within the Knight Campus to promote collaborations across the UO."

For more information, visit the UO Center for Biomedical Data Science website.