Collaboration, Translation and the Future of Microbiome Innovation
Posted 1st March 2018 by Jane Williams
Translation. When we hear this word, it may evoke feelings of excitement, adventure and possibility that come with learning different languages or travelling to a foreign country. For scientists, ‘translation’ also suggests moving research findings from the laboratory into clinical practice. Just as words are translated, so too are research findings.
Critical to a useful translation is the idea that it provides and ascribes meaning. Data, just like language, must be grouped and contextualized in a way that it becomes actionable. It is in the extraction of meaning where medical research can benefit from continued progress and innovation. The microbiome research community is no different. Previous considerations around limitations to data generation are no longer relevant; there is a crush of data today. However, this abundance of data is only meaningful if it can be analyzed to provide a greater understanding of disease and lead to tailored interventions and treatments. This challenge has proven difficult due to the siloed nature of how research is conducted across the scientific community.
With this backdrop, I’m excited that one of the key themes of Microbiome Futures is a community approach to unlock the tremendous potential of microbiome science and accelerate its translation into novel treatments for individuals.
Microbiome research represents an exciting area of innovation and scientific potential. With many pioneering efforts underway across many diseases in this space, there are examples of research infrastructure and standardization that have not yet been formalized. As a result, the microbiome community is faced with ‘lost in translation’ struggles.
Companies and researchers are developing tools and protocols to analyze microbiome data, but are doing so independently from each other, potentially inhibiting progress for the field as a whole. There is an opportunity for stakeholders – the biopharmaceutical industry, startups and academics – to work together and create, for example, improved computational tools that the entire field can benefit from to progress microbiome science.
One approach Janssen is taking to address this challenge is through collaborations with laboratories, data scientists, informaticists and entrepreneurs on a computational platform. Through the Mosaic Community, Janssen is collaborating with DNAnexus to build a secure and collaborative community platform where researchers can develop, improve, and share data and methods to facilitate the translation of data to insights. The ultimate goal is to drive publications, partnerships and new ventures that improve the understanding of how the microbiome contributes to health and the development of disease.
Through specific Mosaic Community Challenges currently underway, the aim is to advance technology to accurately determine the type and quantity of microbes in a sample at the strain level, and to capture the diversity of protocols for NGS-based microbiome profiling methods and analyses as a first step in understanding the impact on variability of results.
Microbiome discovery efforts hold great promise, but collaboration is necessary to continue to translate today’s data and findings into tomorrow’s therapeutics. The microbiome community has an unprecedented opportunity to come together and build a strong foundational infrastructure that will provide the precision and resolution to support scalability and robustness in ongoing research. Such infrastructure is critical to making rapid and efficient progress in translating microbiome science; progress that will ultimately benefit people around the world.
One of the best ways to stimulate innovation is to foster a global ecosystem with an intention to accelerate science. This means nurturing relationships with people who bring a different perspective to the challenges a field faces. It is in these collaborations where together we advance transformational approaches to treat, prevent, and perhaps eliminate diseases in the future.
Dirk Gevers is Global Head, Janssen Human Microbiome Institute. He will be joining the panel of Microbiome Futures: A Global Translational Roadmap on May 23rd.
To hear more from Dirk and to contribute to the discussion, book your ticket now before places run out.
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