1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · Events

How ‘User-Led’ Innovation in Bioinformatics Stands to Facilitate (Civic) Translational Science

Seminar   01.07.2009






Dr Conor Douglas, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics, School for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada


Cardiff and Lancaster Access Grid Nodes

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This paper sets out to accomplish three goals. The first is an elaboration of the concept of‘civic translational science’ that can be likened to the broader ‘open source revolution inbiotechnology’ described by Hope (2008); the second is to show how user-led (and lead-user)innovation that Von Hipple (2006) describes can and does take place in bioinformatics, and the thirdis the describe how these two phenomenon are seen to come together in contemporary genomic researchin Canada.

This is accomplished by presenting a case study of a large-scale Canadian scientific network thathas –among other things- developed a bioinformatics tool designed to facilitate investigationsinto gene-gene and gene-protein interactions and pathogenomics pathways of the innate – ratherthan adaptive - immune system as well as those interested in systems biology more generally.Understanding these interactions and pathways is one of the crucial next steps in making sense ofthe gigantic amount of genomic information resultant from the Human Genome Project, and is likely to be key for systems levels analyses that are needed for a genomic understanding of the functioning ofpathogens and potential therapeutic or prophylactic targets.

The creation of free and publicly accessible tools that facilitate future knowledge creation and/ordiscovery by other members of the research community is one of the – but not the only - keycharacteristics of what we are calling ‘civic translational science’. The development of thisconcept is motivated in part by a desire to understand novel knowledge production practices in thepost-genomic era that Hope (2008) describes, which are largely facilitated by such bioinformaticstools. Further, a broadening of what is understood as ‘translational science’ may work to temperor ballast science policy expectations that are increasingly demanding translational outcomes fromproject funding.

In line with existing scholarship on the role of users in the development and deployment oftechno-sciences (i.e. the edited volume How Users Matter by Pinch and Oudshoorn, 2003), findingssuggest that numerous processes effectively configure the emerging bioinformatics technology to theneeds of its prospective users. Specifically the case demonstrates the importance of limited releasestrategies, and shows that those who are most likely to use the techno-science are most equipped toshape its content (Von Hipple 2006). An examination of the application of infovis principles in thedevelopment of the analysis tools within the platform suggests that this is not this is not aone-off case, but instead a fundamental element likely to shape bioinformatics and civic translationalike. While the iterative movements between bedside and bench (and back again) can be shown inclinical case studies, which are mirrored by bench-to-bedside (and back again) movements in thecommercial case study, this case of the development of bioinformatics tools suggests that civictranslational science could be characterized by the movements between developers and a host ofprospective users (and back again).

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