School of Medicine

Grant Supplies Startup Funding for Informatics Research Core Facility

New experts and data storage capacity will maximize experiments' potential

Missouri ranks eighth in the nation in residents' incidence of cardiovascular disease, and recently the state dedicated significant funding to research aimed at preventing the most serious complications accompanying treatment.

When Mark McIntosh, PhD, looks at the body as a system, he gains a broad understanding by drawing on the expertise of a team of biologists, chemists and clinicians. And now, thanks to a $1.3 million research grant from the Missouri Life Sciences Trust Fund, McIntosh and University of Missouri system researchers statewide will have a technological resource team to help them make the most of their data.

McIntosh, professor and chair of molecular microbiology and immunology and director of MU Research Core Facilities, received the grant to aid in the startup of the new MU Informatics Research Core Facility. The facility will employ experts in bioinformatics, biostatistics, software programming and database management and will be integrated into the existing infrastructure managed by the University of Missouri Informatics Consortium.

The facility will begin the process of acquiring the technology and staff members to begin offering assistance this year on a fee-for-service basis. Having experts on-hand will help investigators as they design their experiments and analyze the enormous amounts of interconnected information that can be gleaned from just a single experiment, McIntosh said. For example, a next-generation DNA analyzer used in some experiments is capable of generating two terabytes of raw imaging data per week – the equivalent of 2,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

"By having these huge datasets you learn more about the experimental model as a whole, rather than one simple aspect of it. If you want to do systems biology, you have to underpin it with informatics," he said. "That's what we're trying to do on campus, so that investigators, whatever their interest, can interact with this facility and get their informatics needs taken care of."

The Informatics Research Core Facility will also help the university remain competitive with other research institutions in terms of recruiting faculty, applying for larger research grants and connecting with other institutions, McIntosh said.

When the Life Sciences Research Board awarded funding proposals in 2008, it weighted them based on their scientific merits and their abilities to use funding to provide statewide economic return, as well as their alignment with state priorities. McIntosh's was one of six MU teams awarded funding.

"This has been a highly-competitive process," said Roger Mitchell, PhD, the board's chair. "These newly-awarded grants will leverage substantial additional investment in Missouri."

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