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NJ Researchers Want to Serve as Honest Brokers for Microarray Users and Industry

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From their basement microarray labs in Newark, NJ, researchers Peter Tolias and Michael Recce are planning to revolutionize the way microarray customers deal with their suppliers.

“We have been discussing setting up a special interest group for microarray researchers,” said Recce. “We think that the industry needs an honest broker, because we get a less than clear picture from Affymetrix and other manufacturers of microarray equipment.”

The interest group would evaluate products from numerous suppliers, and act as a clearinghouse for information about products and protocols , Recce said. With one voice, it would communicate with chip and equipment manufacturers, discussing common difficulties with microarrays and equipment and identifying key issues for manufacturers as they update their products.

Tolias, director of the non-profit Public Health Research Institute’s Center for Applied Genomics, and Recce, the center’s director of bioinformatics, have been using Affymetrix products and arraying equipment from GeneMachines since the center’s launch in March 2000.

While they have been able to obtain valuable data from the wide variety of experiments they are doing on Affymetrix chips, they have found that when they run into problems, at times the company is less than accessible. Given that this seems to be a common problem among smaller academic labs — regardless of the brand of chip employed — they have been pondering this group-based solution.

The user group, said Recce, would be modeled on the “technology clubs” in the UK, where Recce worked for a dozen years as a researcher at University College London. Researchers in technology clubs pay a subscription fee and share research. Another model Recce cited was the UK semiconductor industry’s Semiconductor Business Association, a group that allows researchers to share precompetitive data in order to move the whole industry forward.

The group would not be confined to small academic users. Large pharmaceutical companies and other large users could also benefit by joining, said Recce, because they would gain access to the expertise of academic users.

The Center for Applied Genomics would offer group users its own software for data visualization and normalization as well as a set of arraying protocols they say is better than Affymetrix’s own protocol. “The biggest issue with Affymetrix chips is resolving the protocols,” said Tolias. “This one works well.”

Microarray researchers polled by BioArray News about the idea of a microarray users’ group offered mixed responses.

“I think it’s a great idea,” wrote Eric Blalock of the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

But Michael Marino of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said he thought the array listserve ([email protected] ITSSRV1.UCSF.EDU) sufficed, as it allows members to post queries whenever they need information about specific issues such as labeling protocols.

“I certainly would not pay to belong as the listserver does a pretty good job,” Marino said.

But Tolias pointed out that the group would do more than share ideas. It hopes to actually hire people who would answer users questions and go out in the field to manufacturers for site visits. “We would provide real individuals that would help with their experiment analysis,” he said.

To start with, Recce said, the researchers plan to look for club members in their own backyard. “The state of New Jersey is a big pharmaceutical [region], and there is a demand for this type of relationship,” he said. “Our status as an academic research center makes us an honest broker.”

— MMJ

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