Bioinformatics: Technology that ‘underpins’ research

Hai Hu, vice president for research at Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber, explains a bioinformatics research poster on Sept. 15, 2017.

WINDBER – Scientists studying molecular characteristics of nearly 70,000 tissue specimens at Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber have a big job.

Each specimen contains an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 genes, capable of producing about 2 million proteins.

Researchers studying the genetics and proteomics of cancer rely on a specialized field of data analysis known as bioinformatics.

Army Col. Craig Shriver, director of the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, says bioinformatics “underpins all the research in cancer.”

Windber’s bioinformatics program, led by institute Vice President for Research Hai Hu, has served Walter Reed’s Clinical Breast Care Project research from the beginning in 2000. Its reputation gained it a contract to develop the Bethesda cancer center’s research infrastructure.

“They are really good at this over the years,” Shriver said.

As important as his team is to the analysis of cancer cells and proteins, Hu said the bioinformatics field goes beyond data management. The team has its own research, comparing patients and diseases from public reporting networks.

“Databases can be studied without ever going into the lab,” Hu said. “You can take as many data points as you can find.”

Hu has studied breast cancer risk factors, cancer development mechanisms and cancer molecular characteristics by integrating data from multiple clinical, genomic and proteomic platforms. 

Windber’s success through Walter Reed has propelled the bioinformatics team into development of a system for the new Applied Proteogenomics Organizational Learning and Outcomes network

The collaboration of the Department of Defense, National Cancer Institute and Veterans administration will study cancer tissue from 8,000 patients.

“Our team is very good at that, and recognized,” Hu said. “We are leading the development of infrastructure for APOLLO and Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed.”

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.