Bioinformatics Tools Promote Life-Saving Research
On November 30, I appeared on Health Tech Today, where I chatted with Dr. Bill Crounse about the Microsoft Biology Foundation and how it will help scientists advance their research. This interview marks yet another opportunity for Microsoft External Research to spread the word about our open-source work in developing tools that, as Dr. Crounse noted, provide researchers with “the potential to discover amazing things and solve big problems.”
The heart of the interview was a discussion of the overarching goal of the Microsoft Biology Foundation, which is to develop a set of tools that enable researchers to more easily and effectively collaborate and thereby expedite new discoveries. I explained how researchers around the world have come up with their own data formats—their own unique standards on how to encode, share, and work with data. They have developed all these individual languages, and now this profusion of tongues is impeding collaboration. In essence, we have a scientific cacophony, with researchers speaking different languages through the data.
Through the Microsoft Biology Foundation, we’re providing the building blocks to translate these many data files and formats into a common language. In addition to these file parsers, we also provide standard algorithms to assemble and align genetic sequence data, thereby obviating the need for each researcher to create his or her own unique version. Through these efforts, we’re relieving researchers of onerous translation chores and allowing them to focus on solving real problems, like designing new drugs and developing new vaccines, which will ultimately save lives.
As I discussed with Dr. Crounse, we’re doing this by building an extensive and expandable library on the Microsoft .NET Framework, a technology that gives us the advantage of being interoperable with many different programming languages. I pointed out our goal of using tools like DeepZoom and Pivot to facilitate interactive visualization of massive quantities of data, such as the billions of base pairs found in the human genome. These new technologies have the potential to make it easier and more intuitive to identify patterns and spot outliers in the data. Such discoveries could lead to breakthroughs against some of the most feared diseases, including AIDS. I noted, in fact, how we are using the Microsoft Biology Foundation library to support David Heckerman’s work in the eScience team at Microsoft Research, where they are working diligently to create a vaccine against HIV.
I finished my interview with an appeal for medical researchers and biologists to visit www.research.microsoft.com/bio, where they can learn more about the Microsoft Biology Initiative and its open-source tools. As I noted, we need feedback from those working on the frontlines of medicine and biology in order to improve our tools and move forward in our quest to improve human health.
—Beatriz Diaz Acosta, Senior Research Program Manager, Health and Wellbeing, the External Research division of Microsoft Research