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Evan Snitkin: Outbreaks, Resistance, and Bioinformatics in the Clinic

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Recommended by: David Lipman, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Julie Segre, National Human Genome Research Institute, and Tom Tullius, Boston University

Though he majored in both biology and computer science in college, Evan Snitkin didn't intend to become a bioinformatician — he says that when he was in college, he had no idea bioinformatics even existed.

Now at NHGRI in Julie Segre's lab, Snitkin is applying genome sequencing and bioinformatic analysis to study hospital-acquired infections and the evolution of antibiotic resistance.

Collaboration — Snitkin works with clinical microbiologists and epidemiologists — is an important component of his work. "The work I am doing now has really benefitted from having collaborations that are outside of computation and genomics," Snitkin says, adding that working with others allows him "to think about things differently."

Paper of note

Snitkin and his colleagues reported in Science Translational Medicine over the summer that they were able to combine whole-genome sequencing and epidemiological data to track, in real-time, an outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae at the NIH Clinical Center. By sequencing isolates from patients, they were able to reconstruct how the outbreak spread.

"It's really a nice proof of principle [about] where hospital infection control is going," Snitkin says, "and really exciting to our clinical collaborators who were new to this technology and now see possibilities where it could totally change the way they protect patients from infections."

Looking ahead

That and other work, Snitkin says, is setting the stage for bringing whole-genome sequencing into clinical care. "In terms of sequencing bacterial genomes, the technology is here now and the analysis is here now," he says. "It's just deploying and implementing it."

In his own work, Snitkin plans to incorporate data from other 'omics. "What I'm really interested in is exploiting all these genome sequences that are coming out and taking it to next level and incorporating other sort of 'omic technologies to understand the systems evolution and not just individual mutations that we're seeing, but synthesizing it all together," he says.

And the Nobel goes to…

If he were to receive the Nobel Prize, Snitkin would like it to be for developing a new type of antibiotic. "Discovering the antibiotic that resistance can't evolve against, I think would be a cool thing to be able to do, to incorporate evolution into drug design," he says.

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