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December 3, 2012

A New Sequence for Stanford

Ian Armas Foster

Genomics is an exciting and perfect use case for big data. Sequencing human genomes and analyzing them requires significant data initiatives while the rewards—namely getting to the roots of major disease—are equally significant. As such, competition in the genomic research space is welcome.

To help spur that competition, Stanford University, already a renowned genomics research institution, won approval for and is planning the building of an interdisciplinary genomics center. The center would rival that of MIT’s as well as Harvard’s Broad Institute for government funding and the top genomics personnel in the country.

Richard Saller, Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford via Stanford’s School of Medicine newsletter, announced that the new Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics will be headed by genetics professor Carlos Bustamante and biology professor Mark Feldman.

“There was a recognition among the administration of how significant and vital it was to support this project and take a risk,” Saller said of seed funding for the new center. Given Stanford’s efforts in genomics to date, including a project, highlighted here, that is able to detect diabetic warning signs in sequenced genomes, the risk seems likely to pay off.

It is the intention of the university to wean the Center off the initial seed funding and onto government and philanthropic contributions. The focus here will be, according to Feldman, to utilize Stanford’s noted interdisciplinary work to bring together physicists, computer scientists, health care professionals and more. “The Stanford school of interdisciplinary research continues to thrive, and with this new center, we hope to continue that tradition of excellence,” Feldman said.

Stanford has been one of the key players in driving down sequencing costs from a couple billion dollars (with the Human Genome Project ten years ago) to a couple thousand dollars. If they continue that progress with their new Center, the funding should not be hard to come by.

Of course, as the Stanford Center competes with the Broad Institute for resources and talent, they will, along with Harvard, become an important cog in advancing big data research through the field of genomics.

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