Now more than ever before, the power to turn huge volumes of data into information about our world has put the answers to some of life’s most challenging questions within our grasp. The George Washington University’s Computational Biology Institute (CBI) brings together leading faculty in biology, medicine and computing to harness this information, opening new doors of discovery that have the potential to benefit millions. CBI is also maximizing the university’s unique relationships in the nation’s capital to form research partnerships and spotlight cutting-‐edge topics that may influence future American and international policymaking. By blending its own skills with the expertise of engineers, mathematicians, statisticians, clinicians and others, CBI is contributing to knowledge and resources that can be used by researchers on a global scale, influencing how the world uses science and technology to solve its most pressing problems. With these truly incomparable resources and expertise, CBI will perform cutting-‐edge research and help raise awareness of scientific advancements that improve our health, environment and overall quality of life.
PILLAR 1: BUILDING A ROBUST FOUNDATION TO ADVANCE SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY
With expansive, interdisciplinary research capabilities, CBI is developing foundational knowledge, models, databases and computational tools to explore questions that continue to beguile humanity. CBI contributions to the Tree of Life Project, for example, have helped gather together information that had previously been impossible to access, and established a single resource that categorizes all life on Earth based on shared evolutionary history. CBI is also developing new platforms and methods of analysis to help drive the field forward in areas such as single cell genome analysis and reconstruction of ancient genomes. Genomes with duplicated genes or sections that have been rearranged as one species evolves to another present modeling problems that are computationally difficult but biologically important. These analyses may also provide insight into underlying genetic changes that contribute to disease and aging. Scientists at CBI are developing new mathematical methods to help solve these problems as they emerge, aiding efforts to piece together the genetic relationships that bind various forms of life. Ultimately, the tools and knowledge created by CBI will serve as one of the nation’s most invaluable resources for discovery.
PILLAR 2: TRANSLATING RESEARCH INTO APPLICATIONS THAT SOLVE PROBLEMS
With a sophisticated framework and in-depth expertise, CBI is poised to pursue groundbreaking translational research, tailoring its tools and methods to enable innovative approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating disease and adapting to the growing threat of climate and ecosystem change, among other major challenges facing humanity. In fact, CBI has already pioneered methods to trace disease outbreaks, study the evolution of drug resistance and diagnose the root cause of illnesses faster and more effectively. CBI faculty also helped develop Galaxy, an open-source platform that makes it easier for scientists and physicians to perform analyses, as well as reproduce and share genomic information for cancer and other biomedical research. In addition, CBI identified genetic indicators of stress and recovery in crustaceans that helped uncover and monitor the true impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the other important species in the Gulf of Mexico. Research partnerships with human health-based organizations like the NIH-funded DC Children’s National Medical Center are set to make advances in the study of evolution of diseases and drug resistance and personalized medicine based on individual genetics and biomarkers. In addition, CBI takes advantage of its proximity to organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Smithsonian Institution, by partnering with them to help protect important plants and animals that our communities rely on for food and healthy, life-sustaining ecosystems.
PILLAR 3: SOCIETAL IMPACTS AND POTENTIAL BEYOND HEALTH & CONSERVATION
Given the reach of CBI’s pursuit of knowledge, it should come as no surprise that its findings have broad implications beyond the realms of medicine and ecology. In fact, CBI’s research can already be applied across a spectrum of society’s concerns, particularly in the areas of bioethics, evolution, public health, forensics and criminal justice. In addition to its scientific expertise, CBI will take advantage of GW’s intellectual capital on legal, educational and public health issues—both inside and outside the university—to help explore the consequences of technological strides made in the field, as well as best practices regarding privacy, policymaking, and open access to data. With a full-field view, CBI will work to make technical topics more widely accessible to the general public and ultimately transform its findings into improved technologies, diagnostics, treatments, recommendations, practices and policies that will influence and improve our planet for years to come.