Expanding with the pace of innovations in health care, the IDSC Digital Health and Life Sciences Informatics program encompasses research in Digital Drug Discovery, Population Health Informatics, and Social and Behavioral Data Science. IDSC is pleased to announce the appointment of Stephan Schürer, Azizi Seixas, and Daniel Messinger as Program Directors, respectively, for these initiatives.
Stephan C. Schürer, PhD, joined IDSC when it was the “Center for Computational Science” (aka CCS) in October of 2008 to lead the CCS Cheminformatics program. His research was then centered in computer-aided drug design, cheminformatics, translational drug informatics, and semantic integration with the goal to better synergize experimental and ‘in-silico’ approaches for the development of small molecule tool compounds and drug “leads.”
More than a decade later, Dr. Schürer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology with a team of 7 researchers. His “Schürer Lab” is interested in Systems Biology Drug Discovery, Computational Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry and Data Science. His team incorporates aspects of all of these areas to develop targeted translational therapeutics. The Medicinal Chemistry team utilizes the tools and workflows designed above to identify targets and hit compounds, and optimize these hits into advanced pre-clinical leads. They are specifically interested in kinase drug discovery, where using machine learning approaches we have identified several first-in-class kinase molecular probes. This work is in collaboration with clinical and biomedical scientists at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Dr. Schürer’s current research is focused on developing solutions large-scale integration and modeling of systems biology ‘omics’ and drug protein interaction data to guide translation of disease models into novel functional small molecules with a particular focus on kinases and epigenetic bromodomain reader proteins The Schürer research group is interested in developing novel approaches to integrate chemoinformatics, computational biology, and bioinformatics methods with medical chemistry to develop a translational drug-informatics platform to answer complex scientific questions.
Dr. Schürer is perhaps, best known for his work with the LINCS portal (Library of Integrated Network-Based Cellular Signatures), an NIH Common Fund program with the goal of generating a large-scale and comprehensive catalogue of perturbation-response signatures by utilizing a diverse collection of perturbations (e.g. chemical, genetic, disease state), model systems (e.g. cell lines, differentiated cells, embryonic stem cells) and assay types (e.g. gene expression, protein expression, epigenetic modification, imaging). Currently in Phase 2, LINCS consists of six Data and Signature Generation Centers (DSGCs) and one Data Coordination and Integration Center (DCIC) that together have produced over 400 datasets and over 50 analytical tools focusing on the deeper understanding of complex diseases and the development of novel and effective therapies. The cornerstone of this update has been the decision to reprocess all high-level LINCS datasets and make them accessible at the data-point level enabling users to directly access and download any subset of signatures across the entire library independent from the originating source, project, or assay.
Azizi Seixas, PhD came to the University of Miami from New York University Medical School. A Sleep and Circadian Sciences expert, Dr. Seixas is also an innovator, scientist, thought leader, and technologist. Voted one of the top 100 most inspiring Black Scientists in America by Cell Press, he believes in health and wellness for all through disruptive and scalable innovation. Dr. Seixas has authored over 150 high-impact publications, book chapters, and conference presentations, and his work appears in media outlets like CBS, CNN, NBC, Associated Press, and The Guardian.
An Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Miller School of Medicine, Dr. Seixas is also Director of The Media and Innovation Lab (“The MIL”). Launched in December 2021, The MIL is an ambitious endeavor to innovate, accelerate, and disseminate accessible and effective health and wellness technologies. The MIL is focused on five key components of academic medicine, including: medical education, clinical care, research, community service and outreach, and venture opportunities. With these pillars in mind, at The MIL Dr. Seixas will drive transformative health care innovation and outcomes for South Florida, the region, and the global community.
For the past 10 years, Dr. Seixas has conducted extensive research on the multilevel determinants of brain and mental health, aging, and cardiovascular disease disparities, the long-term health consequences of cardiovascular disease and brain health disparities, and developing adaptive, group-tailored, and personalized behavior modification interventions. Dr. Seixas has also explored the use of machine learning analytical tools and AI to improve health and well-being—work he plans on furthering at The MIL. (Read more at INVENTUM.)
Growing up in inner-city Jamaica, Dr. Seixas got his drive from his hard-working single mother who earned a college, then a Master’s degree while working full-time. He share (on his website) that his passion came from his force-of-nature grandmother, who taught him to question the status quo. “The two things in life that level off human beings are death and education,” she told young Azizi. who both empowered him to pursue an education. Soon after earning his PhD in Clinical Psychology, Dr. Seixas had the opportunity to participate in a sleep and behavioral summer training at New York University, which sparked his passion for sleep as an often overlooked pillar of health. “Solving healthcare challenges takes more than sophisticated new tool” Dr. Seixas says, “It takes continuous streams of good data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and a deep understanding of how to effect sustainable behavior change across the four pillars of health: sleep, physical activity, diet and nutrition, and stress management.”
Daniel S. Messinger, PhD, is a Professor in the Departments of Psychology, Pediatrics, Electrical & Computer Engineering, and Music Engineering. He also serves as the Associate Director of the Department of Psychology Developmental Program, which trains students to understand children’s growth over time. Developmental faculty members have strong collaborative research programs investigating affect, attention, cognition, language, social interaction, school readiness, and early science education. Supportive mentoring relationships with individual faculty members are the keystone of research training in our program. The developmental program is designed to be completed in four to five years of residency.
Additionally, Dr. Messinger is the Director of the early PLAY and DEVELOPMENT Laboratory, which examines the development of typically developing children as well as children who are at-risk for or are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and he is the Research Director of the Department of Psychology Linda Ray Intervention Center (LRIC). LRIC is a Multidisciplinary Educational Services Center within the Department of Education’s Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System. The LRIC is one of the five Early Intervention Birth-Two Programs in Miami within the state’s Early Steps program for young children with disabilities.
Dr. Messinger’s specialties are: social, language, and emotional development; modeling interaction using objectively measured, big behavioral data; and he focuses on autism, attachment, and preschool classrooms. Dr. Messinger uses machine learning to paint an objective picture of children’s interaction and employs computational models to make sense of the resulting big behavioral data. He works with children affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), hearing loss, and poverty. By understanding interaction, he seeks to foster pathways to healthy development. Specific projects include the emergence of secure attachment, objective measures of autistic behavior, and language and proximity/orientation networks in inclusive classrooms.
Daniel Messinger joined IDSC when it was still CCS in 2015 as Program Director of Social Systems Informatics and has helped IDSC evolve with the science. He is on the Advisory Board and is a frequent mentor for the IDSC Fellows program, a prestigious designation awarded each year to a total of four graduate or undergraduate (sophomore level or above) students. Dr. Messinger works extensively with students to guide them as they shape the direction of their career and/or bring their research project goals to life.
Dr. Messinger’s current research aims to further understand emotional and social interaction and development of typically developing infants, infants who have autistic siblings, and children with autism spectrum disorders. He is using automated measurement and ratings of facial expressions to explore emotion and interaction. Additionally, Dr. Messinger is examining dynamic systems and the impact of real-time processes (sharing a smile) on developmental processes (secure attachment). As the author of over 120 scientific publications appearing in journals such as Nature Communications, Developmental Science, and Molecular Autism, Dr. Messinger has over a dozen years of experience leading longitudinal research initiatives funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). He is associate editor of Emotion (American Psychological Association Journal) and reviews grants for the NIH and NSF.
IDSC is pleased and proud to welcome all three cutting-edge researchers to their new roles.