If the idea of a one-stop informatics shop ready to meet all of your data analysis needs sounds like something for the wish list, think again. Researchers around Boston now have access to just such a service in the Center for Cancer Computational Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The CCCB, which opened its doors in early April, aims to function as a bioinformatics consultancy, offering investigators guidance and services for all types of 'omics research projects. Clients work in tandem with their assigned CCCB consultants throughout the entire analysis process on a fee-for-service basis.
John Quackenbush, director of the CCCB, says that this aspect of collaboration between the clients and consultants is something that will be emphasized, because it's brain power that will solve problems, not just fancy hardware. "A lot of people talk about software and tools to advance or accelerate research, but I think that what is really critical isn't a piece of software, it's a piece of 'gray-ware,'" he says. "And what we hope to do is develop a cohort of people to try and change the way in which people think about analyzing data."
The new center has its roots in a long-term strategic planning process that started at Dana-Farber more than seven years ago. "They recognized that what was driving modern biological innovation was technology, so they wanted to create a series of centers that worked on an entrepreneurial model to bring in new approaches and technologies and apply them to the study of human cancer," Quackenbush says. "One of the areas they identified early on was bioinformatics and computational biology." Initially the center will be subsidized, but Quackenbush and his CCCB colleagues are hoping to develop a sustainable model over time that might include some institutional support from things like cancer center grants, as well as corporate clients interested in working with the center to help analyze data.
"The need that exists for bioinformatics support is underestimated because what these new technologies are doing is converting biological science from a laboratory science into an information science," Quackenbush adds. "And the organizations that are poised to take advantage of the tsunami of data that is coming and on the way already are those that are really going to be able to advance the field."