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NIST, Stanford Launch Biomedical Measurement Science Program; Partners Include Life Tech, Agilent

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Stanford University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have launched a new program that aims to develop methods for measuring the accuracy and comparability of life sciences and genomics technologies, particularly tools that are expanding beyond the lab and into clinical medicine.

The Advances in Biomedical Measurement Science (ABMS) program will use funding and resources from Stanford and NIST, as well as from commercial partners Life Technologies and Agilent Technologies, to develop industry consensus standards and standard reference materials for a range of genomics and imaging technologies, Marc Salit, leader of NIST's Multiplexed Biomolecular Science Group, Biosystems and Biomaterials Divisions, told GenomeWeb Daily News today.

The ABMS partners plan to focus on technology areas that are edging their way into clinical medicine and other applications, including the use of high-throughput sequencing for HLA typing; stem cell phenotyping and genotyping; quantitative imaging for non-invasive cancer diagnosis and for drug response and screening; synthetic biology; and multiparameter protein measurement.

The partners expect that improving the accuracy and comparability of data from these tools will make it easier and faster to make decisions about how they will be used in research and in the clinic, and how they might be regulated.

The initiative is part of an effort by NIST to expand its presence in biotechnology, healthcare, and biomedicine, particularly through partnerships with universities that have competencies, medical facilities, and expertise in areas that the institute lacks.

"Stanford has a critical mass of some of these assets, and NIST thought [the ABMS program] would be an efficient way to expand its presence in the healthcare and biomedical areas," Salit said.

"NIST was a spectacular resource for the century of physics in the 20th Century; we want to be that resource for the century of biology, this century," he told GWDN. "We wanted to see if we could take what we had developed in chemistry — in terms of measurement assurance and the kinds of things that bring confidence to measurement results — and transfer it into genomic measurement."

Several NIST researchers have relocated to Stanford from their offices in Gaithersburg, Md., and will work directly with established Stanford investigators and postdocs, while around half of Salit's team will remain at the Maryland lab, he said.

Another selling point of this partnership for NIST is that it enables the agency to establish "a permanent presence" on the West Coast, near Silicon Valley, Salit said.

NIST has other well-established joint institutes at US universities, and the long-term aim is that the ABMS will be "a seed from which such a joint institute could grow," Salit explained.

The program will operate as a virtual center at first, where investigators from NIST, Stanford, and the industry partners will "work shoulder to shoulder" to study genomics and imaging technologies that are working their way into clinical care, he added.

"Some of these [Stanford and industry] research groups have instruments and technologies that exist commercially which would benefit from a real thorough study, from a measurement science perspective" said Salit.

Tom Baer, director of the Advances in Biomedical Measurement Science Program, told GWDN that the life sciences companies involved in the program have a strong interest in working with partners to test, measure, and analyze their technologies in new ways. The two companies already involved, and any future industry partners, will pay annual fees to help support the program, he noted.

"We expect that there will be significant standards reference materials and protocols that will come out of the joint research here with Mark's group on campus. And [Life Technologies and Agilent] are going to benefit because there will be some really first-class scientists working with their instrumentation, studying how well they perform now and coming up with ways that they could potentially be improved," said Baer, who also is executive director of the Stanford Photonics Research Center.

Salit noted that NIST does not develop government regulations but informs their development, and added that in working with tech companies its mission is to help "grow the whole pie bigger," and to support the US technology industry enterprise broadly.

This kind of partnership, he said, also will engage experts from the Food and Drug Administration, which will "bring real value" to these companies.

The HLA typing project, which will study the use of high-throughput sequencing and other nucleic acid-based technologies for identifying immune responses to bone marrow and stem cell transplantation, is a "perfect example" of the kind of program the partners will pursue, Baer explained. "This has great resonance with at least one of the commercial partners, who is trying to develop methods and products around HLA typing," he added.

"We're looking to identify areas of great medical need in the whole area of tissue transplants, both as it exists today and as it is going to grow with the stem cell and regenerative medicines initiatives that are underway," said Baer. "This is an area of critical medical need where measurement science can play a very important role with the new quantitative technologies that are currently available."

He said the HLA typing effort is "a prototype of how we're developing the research programs at ABMS." The goal is "to look not just at the concept of how you do this measurement, but what is the problem, where is measurement playing a role, and how we can improve the performance of the systems and technologies through both standards development, better understanding, and measurement science," Baer said.

Baer also said that he expects this project will serve to educate regulatory agencies about "what is legitimate scientific data with a legitimate use of particular instrumentation, and what protocols have intellectual or scientific merit or not."

He noted that NIST wasn't aware of this need prior to beginning a dialogue with the Stanford researchers. "By coming here and interacting directly with groups that have patient contact, and dealing with developing solutions to significant medical problems, we are able to focus NIST on these areas and bring the resources of the medical community here at Stanford to bear with NIST, as well as with the companies that are supplying the instrumentation," said Baer.