In 1997, after five years of coordinating technology development for the Human Genome Project, Bob Strausberg decided he wanted to pursue more practical applications of genomics. So when former Rockefeller University president Arnie Levine and the Whitehead’s Eric Lander invited him to join a working group on building resources and tools for bridging genome data with cancer research, he jumped at the opportunity.
In fact, he liked the idea so much he spoke with then-NCI director Rick Klausner about taking over the project himself. “I decided that this was something I would really like to do, to lead this project,” Strausberg says. What followed was the Cancer Genome Anatomy Project.
Almost six years later, Strausberg continues to pull the strings for the $8 million a year project, allowing CGAP to “evolve to meet the needs of the cancer research community,” he says. What started out as the tumor gene index, a database of gene expression profiles culled from normal and tumor cells, has now blossomed into a SAGE (serial analysis of gene expression) database, complete with bioinformatics tools that allow individual researchers to analyze the data “from their own perspectives,” Strausberg says.
Along the way, Strausberg, who trained as a yeast molecular biologist, also oversaw an effort to link human genome sequence to cytogenetic data. Under his direction, CGAP has cataloged all the SNPs known to be associated with tumors, and partnered with overseas groups to acquire data on their libraries of tumor samples.
He’s currently working on the Cancer Molecular Anatomy Project, an effort to connect genomic data on cancer with information on target identification, drug development, and clinical trials, and an effort to integrate CGAP with Stuart Schreiber’s Initiative for Chemical Genetics at Harvard.
Strausberg likens his position to that of running a virtual genome center, and he doesn’t miss having to spend hours in the lab. He continues to help design experiments and interpret results (though he’s not at the bench himself), while at the same time assembling research teams to accomplish big picture goals. “It’s this mix of big picture and active scientific participation that I find so exciting,” he says.
— John S. MacNeil