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New Proteomics Group, HUPO, Struggles to Define Itself

McLEAN, Va., April 2 - Researchers at the first meeting of the Human Proteome Organization, or HUPO, struggled on Monday to hash out a role for the group in the rapidly evolving field of proteomics research.

While attendees agreed in principle on the benefit of a body to foster discovery and prevent discord between academic and industry scientists, they disagreed over how exactly the organization should coordinate public and private research.

Although the organization currently "exists only in spirit," one of the founders, Ian Humphery-Smith, a proteomics researcher at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, said HUPO now has 24 council members from European, American, and Asian universities and companies. Korea recently became the first government to agree to collaborate with the organization, he added.

In a panel discussion on day one of the first annual HUPO meeting, academic researchers tended to stress their desire to be included and insisted that all data generated from the protein project be placed in a public database.

"All data should be made freely available," said Trevor Hawkins, director of the Joint Genome Institute of the Department of Energy in  Walnut Creek, California. "We're not in the position to say which data should be fully available and what not."

Predictably, many industry scientists advocated a more laissez faire  approach to regulating proteomics research, emphasizing that making all data public would remove the incentive to rapidly develop applications with benefits to human health.

"Almost the best thing is something totally chaotic," said Leigh Anderson, CEO of Large Scale Proteomics, which has assembled an initial version of an index of human proteins. "The limiting of duplication means delay, and the public interest is diametrically opposed to delay."

In Humphery-Smith's vision, HUPO would be "commercially-driven, facilitated by governments," and should promote proteomics research rather than coordinate specific projects. "It needs now to have involvement from funding agencies around the world, obviously bringing in funding but also to be involved in the decision-making," said Humphery-Smith.

But some researchers expressed doubt that such a diverse field that incorporates so many technologies could ever be successfully stewarded. Given that the Human Genome Project involved just two competing technologies, the ABI 3700 and Amersham MegaBACE, said Emanuel Petracoin, a scientist at the US Food and Drug Administration, it would be difficult to know which proteomics technologies to support.

"We need to be inclusionary, and evaluate all the technologies fairly," he said.

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