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Pathways to Discovery: Summer 2012

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UChicago Medicine Investigators Reap Benefits of Bioinformatics

Technology is revolutionizing everything we do––and biology is no exception. The application of computer science to biology, known as bioinformatics, has become increasingly important for conducting state-of-the-art research.

“Next-generation sequencing instruments and other high-throughput technologies are now making it possible to understand the genomic differences between cancer tumors and normal tissue,” said Robert Grossman, PhD, professor of medicine and chief research informatics officer at The University of Chicago (UChicago) Medicine. “But because of the size and complexity of the data, this analysis can be overwhelming at first to researchers.”

To address that challenge, a new core facility has been developed to provide bioinformatics expertise to UChicago Medicine clinical, translational, and basic researchers who need to analyze vast amounts of data from their experiments.
The Bioinformatics Core is housed in the Center for Research Informatics (CRI), a UChicago Medicine center created in 2011 to provide a broad range of computational resources and expertise in biomedical informatics (cri.uchicago.edu). The CRI also supports educational activities, coordinates cross-departmental research initiatives, and advocates for biomedical informatics.

The Bioinformatics Core works closely with the Genomics Core Facility to provide informatics support for its users who are producing large quantities of data from their next-generation sequencing experiments. Bioinformaticians are available to help investigators analyze DNA and protein sequences, as well as create and view 3-D models of protein structures.

For investigators who wish to develop bioinformatics expertise within their own laboratories, the Bioinformatics Core staff offers training and information resources, such as commercial software tools, reference datasets, and databases. Researchers can also access bioinformatics capabilities, such as data storage, data management, and analytical tools, through a web-based portal in a self-service environment.

“One of the goals of the Bioinformatics Core is to make the required expertise broadly available to UChicago Medicine cancer researchers,” said Dr. Grossman.
In addition to these services, the Bioinformatics Core can help researchers with grant writing by providing documentation of the bioinformatics expertise and tools available to conduct research. This allows investigators to accurately describe the high level of scientific research being performed, and as a result, may improve the chances of grant proposals being funded.

The core is initially focusing on providing data analysis pipelines for genetic studies using microarray and deep sequencing technologies, but may expand to provide expertise in other areas such as proteomics or genome-wide association studies. These services are essential for the success of UChicago Medicine researchers conducting complex genetic studies.


Ernst Lengyel