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St. Jude's Opens Hartwell Center for Bioinformatics, Genotyping, Proteomics Research

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St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., recently inaugurated its $50 million Hartwell Center, a new research center that will focus on conducting research in six burgeoning areas: bioinformatics, high-throughput sequencing and genotyping, macromolecular synthesis, proteomics, functional genomics, and clinical applications.

At the heart of the operation is a new high-performance computing center, equipped with an Oracle database server and a Silicon Graphics Onyx2, which will be dedicated to structural biology.

The center also has two Applied Biosystems 3700 sequencers that will enable researchers to sequence at least two million base pairs a month from the samples they collect. In addition, the center has two microarray labs as well as mass spectrometry facilities. Plans are also in the works to add a SNP detection center.

In order to obtain more data, Hartwell’s director, Clayton Naeve, said he is currently negotiating with both Celera and Incyte Genomics for a subscription to one of their databases.

While Naeve likes Incyte’s software and analysis tools and the fact that he would not have to turn his data over to them, the promise of Celera’s mouse sequence is a big plus.

“Celera wants us to send info to them, which we don’t like, but they hold the key to the castle,” Naeve said. “The correlations with the mouse will be useful to us.”

On the bioinformatics front, Naeve said he is buying what he can and building what he must. So far, he’s had his share of disappointments.

“Some of the software is released before it’s ready for prime time,” Naeve said.

Nevertheless, Naeve is optimistic about the work he and his 23-person staff, including seven bioinformaticists, will be able to do.  The center is hoping to uncover many of the mysteries behind infectious and genetic diseases common in children.

Such an effort is particularly important, Naeve said, since many of these diseases do not capture the attention of big pharma, which tends to be more interested in diseases that strike more people and, therefore, have greater profit potential.

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