Got bioinformatics support services? No? Well, we do!

We’d like to share an article, published in the June 19 edition of Research Connections, about our Bioinformatics Consulting and Education Service. Helene McMurray, head of the BCES and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Genetics, chatted with Bob Marcotte about this innovative and quickly growing service. Bob has done a great job with this overview.

Truly, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. So we won’t.

And we won’t even make you click again.

The text (reading time: less than 2 minutes) in its entirety, is reproduced below.  Thanks, Bob!

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Bioinformatics consultant offers help ‘anywhere in the life cycle of a project’

Jason Mendler, an Assistant Professor at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, is interested in the molecular drivers of chemotherapy refractory acute myeloid leukemia (AML). With help from the University’s Genomics Research Center, he has done RNA sequencing of primitive hematopoietic cells from both healthy donors and AML patients.

When he needed help in refining his analysis of this data, he turned to Helene McMurray, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Genetics and head of the Bioinformatics Consulting and Education Service of the Edward G. Miner Library. He is not the only researcher who has done so.

A year ago, just after she was hired by Miner Library, McMurray averaged one consult a week. Now she’s been meeting with two to three research groups a week — and she’s eager to expand her “practice” even more.

“I’ve been amazed by the demand; it’s really clear that this is needed,” McMurray said.

Informatics involves analyzing large quantities of data to identify patterns and trends. McMurray applies informatics in support of basic and translational science at the Medical Center. She assists researchers investigating topics that range from the health of populations, to in-depth analyses of biological systems in order to better understand, for instance, the development of heart disease or the genetic factors involved in cancer.

We’re willing to help people anywhere in the life cycle of a project, from conception through publication,” McMurray said.

That could include directing researchers new to the field to a computer program or web-based software tool; helping them find, generate or analyze data sets; or engaging them with new collaborators, McMurray said.

Many of the faculty who come in to talk to me are busy with other activities. If they’re clinicians, they’re seeing patients; if they’re researchers they’re writing grants or supervising students. They wear a lot of hats already,” McMurray said. “They don’t necessarily want to learn a new computer language, so they may just want to understand how to better interface with people who know how to do those things.”

She also helps investigators who are already skilled in informatics, have lots of data in hand, but “have hit the wall for one reason or another. They need someone with a fresh set of eyes just to help them get unstuck.”

After receiving her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University in 2003, McMurray did postdoctoral work with Prof. Hartmut “Hucky” Land, studying how genes work together to control cancer. This was her first immersion in genomics and informatics. Since 2009 she has been an assistant professor of Biomedical Genetics here.

The opening for a bioinformatics consultant at the Miner seemed “like a good fit,” given her experience in the field and her interest in teaching, McMurray said. “The data doesn’t scare me. I have knowledge of a lot of different ways to analyze data, but at the same time I know a lot of biology. So when I look at the biological aspects of a project, they also make sense to me.”

Mendler has met with McMurray and with student Sam Moore, who is also assisting Mendler, four times so far. He is well pleased with the advice he has received.

“They’ve been very helpful and available,” Mendler said. “Their help has enabled me to generate a very exciting, novel hypothesis about the basis of chemotherapy refractoriness in AML. I expect this to result in high impact papers and successful grant applications in the years to come.” Click here to learn more.

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