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New HUPO Head Looks to Build Membership, Push Human Proteome Project Forward

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As Young-Ki Paik steps in as the new president of the Human Proteome Organization, opening up the lines of communication and raising membership will be his top priorities.
 
On Jan. 1, Paik became the fourth president of HUPO, succeeding Rolf Apweiler as HUPO’s leader, and in an interview with ProteoMonitor recently, he singled out establishing better relationships with other proteomics societies, especially on the local level, as his key objective for his two-year term.
 
“HUPO is a membership-based international society … and HUPO needs to be more active during my term, I believe, in establishing some two-way dialogue and communications with national and regional HUPO societies worldwide,” Paik said.
 
As HUPO seeks to recharge its Human Proteome Project, which was originally envisioned as a 10-year, $1 billion effort, Paik also targeted movement on that front as a goal. But in extending the organization’s reach and enhancing the credibility of proteomics as a field of research, Paik, director of the Yonsei Proteome Research Center at Yonsei Univesity in Seoul, said that that would be achieved only by reaching out to current and potential HUPO members at the grassroots level.
 
According to HUPO, the current membership stands at 923, down from 1,319 in 2007, a decline attributed to student memberships no longer being free, a HUPO spokeswoman said. Figures for 2006 and 2005 were not available.
 
But while Paik agreed that recent changes in membership fees and terms may have precipitated the drop in membership numbers, he also said that HUPO may have been negligent in reaching out to the research community. He attributed that partly to HUPO’s startup status since it was launched as an all-volunteer organization in 2001. 
 
“We didn’t really pay too much attention to local societies,” he said. “But during my term … I’d like to put some more energy [into making] good contact with local or regional societies because they are providing all the membership to HUPO.
 
“I think, if necessary, HUPO would be able to reinforce or renew HUPO’s purpose or existing roles in response to their needs,” Paik added.
 
As an example of what he’d like to achieve during his presidency, he cited Asian and Oceanic HUPO. “We have about 50 national council representatives covering this area, and … we have built a really good dialogue through which we exchange our [ideas] and coordinated some type of scientific activity within this region,” he said.
 

“HUPO is a membership-based international society … and HUPO needs to be more active during my term, I believe, in establishing some two-way dialogue and communications with national and regional HUPO societies worldwide.”

“So this is really a good model where I am trying to put this kind of mission to our senior vice president, Catherine Costello [director of Boston University School of Medicine’s Mass Spectrometry Resource], if she wishes, to take over some international interaction worldwide,” Paik said.
 
Overall, he wants to see HUPO’s committees “to be more active in their roles” by collaborating with partners, including those in industry, on research projects. Though HUPO has nearly 50 “excellent and talented council members, somehow we haven’t done very much to mobilize their talents and ideas,” he said. “As president, what I’d like to do is contact individual council members and [ask] what they’d like to contribute to HUPO as a whole, and then ask them to participate in such activities. … And then all 48 members can do a lot of things within our standing committees and initiatives.”
 
As the de facto institutional voice for proteomics, he said, HUPO should be at the forefront of proteomic sciences and “it should be the home for proteomic scientists and professionals around the world. … That means that if they want to know more about some project … or some type of global initiative, that they always visit” our web site.
 
Along those lines, HUPO will also take more of a leadership role in providing training tools to researchers, he added, under Angelika Görg, the chairwoman of HUPO’s education and training committee and a professor at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. While he wants the committee to put more attention to disseminating proteomics worldwide, he like it to put particular work into promoting and developing proteomics research in developing countries.
 
Future for Human Proteome Project?
 
Another task for HUPO under Paik’s leadership will be advancing the Human Proteome Project, an ambitious effort to create a first draft of the human proteome [See PM 05/01/08], which suffered a blow during the summer when representatives from a wide swath of international funding agencies expressed skepticism about the project’s chances of attracting financial support [See PM 08/21/08].
 
In November, members of HUPO met with representatives from the European Commission, the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, and other funding organizations to discuss the HPP. According to Paik, the funders would like to “wait and see who’s going to do what and then what kind of funding [will be] available for a pilot project.”
 
Aside from reluctance to fund a $1 billion project, other obstacles face the project, including the role that HUPO should play in it. At HUPO’s Congress in August, several members said that while HUPO should gather support — financial and scientific — it should otherwise maintain a certain distance for the project. In particular, several members said that it would be wrong for HUPO to take a governance role in the HPP.
 
Paik, however, takes a different viewpoint. “I think HUPO has to take a role in governing that kind of project,” he said. “Otherwise, I think there is no coordination, no centrality in data management, data depository, and data sharing. …This type of project really needs tight coordination and cooperation between groups, and among the groups, HUPO’s role is very, very important.”
 
Indeed, Paik said that rather than such an ambitious effort, he had favored a smaller, pilot-phase project in order to evaluate the technology and resources that would be needed for an HPP-type project. 
 
“After three or four years of pilot-phase work, a major funder could make some decision,” he said. “From my personal point of view, if there’s interest in each country to take on a small pilot-phase project, for example … HUPO will then collect all the information … and then evaluate [it, saying,] ‘Hey this is really a big gain, we need to go with it, or not, we need to drop it.’”
 
HUPO, he said, is in the “embryonic stage” at figuring out how the HPP should proceed and still in the midst of “discussing, formulating, and crafting this type of project. This is the idea-gathering stage. That’s why the funders are a little hesitant about putting money [into] it.”
 
In addition to funding reluctance, Paik said that there may be confusion within the research community about what the HPP is and what its goals are.
 
“I think the scientists are not quite ready to say something about deliverables because they haven’t done anything [similar] before,” he said. That, he added, is why some in the community are stressing a disease-oriented approach to the HPP rather than a gene-centric one.
 
“Probably, that kind of project may attract the funders’ interest,” he said. While he declined to take sides on the disease-based versus gene-centric debate, Paik said that no matter the approach, there would need to be an endpoint to it. Without one, the HPP would always have trouble getting started, he said.
 
As an example, he pointed to a project being reviewed by the South Korean government to fund the mapping of protein-encoding genes of chromosome 13, the second-smallest in the genome, using mass spectrometry and antibody-based technology. For that project, the endpoint would be the matching of representative proteins encoded by the chromosome, and a second phase could include post-translational modifications. Ultimately, the deliverable would be information about disease-causing proteins, and “how they modify in different tissues and different diseases and different physiological conditions,” he said. “So some type of physiological map of specific disease can be obtained from this type of project.”
 
While a decision by the government is pending, Paik said he is “very optimistic” that the chromosome-13 project will receive funding and work on it will begin in the spring. If he and his collaborators succeed in carrying out the goals of the project, it would spur on support from funders for the HPP, he added.
“If you find very good disease-related proteins in chromosome 13 and if that gene is chromosome 13-specific … then you will do a lot of different things in terms of scientific interest, so probably I need to demonstrate that this type of work is important for the whole community and then they will follow,” he said.
 
Like every HUPO president before him, he goes into office knowing that there are challenges that will need to be tackled if HUPO is to maintain relevance as a representative organization for the proteomics community. And while the organization may not have satisfied everyone’s hopes, “I think so far HUPO has been pretty successfully within a short period of time,” Paik said. “I think HUPO [has done] a great job in terms of scientific dissemination, and technology development, and also initiative formulation.”