Bioinformatics evolution continues
In various shapes and forms, the link between biology, clinical science and technology is advancing at a steady pace
Look up the term "bioinformatics" and the definition will most likely be a convoluted series of references to algorithms, databases, artificial intelligence, computation theory, discrete mathematics, signal processing, statistics and a half-dozen other terms for complicated concepts. In essence, it is difficult to explain because there are so many facets to it.
Even those working in the field aren't completely together on what bioinformatics should entail, says Christopher Chute, MD, professor of biomedical informatics at the Mayo Clinic.
"Biology and medicine are in two major camps, with the genomic people dealing in bioinformatics and clinical people dealing in either clinical or medical informatics," he said. "Bioinformatics aspires to be the catch-all for both of those groups, but I prefer biomedical informatics myself because it implies both biology and medicine."
At its core, the term "informatics" refers to the intersection between computer science and healthcare, said Gary Kennedy, CEO of Sandy, Utah-based Remedy Informatics. "Bioinformatics" has become the nom du jour, he said, as the idea of personalized medicine has gained traction in healthcare.
"Everything is bioinformatics now," he said. "Whether genomic or proteomic, it all has to do with your personal circumstances," Kennedy said. "With unique biomarkers, it offers a 360-degree view of the patient and that is where it gets really interesting."
Chute estimates that the bioinformatics concept has been around since the mid-1990s, when genomic and molecular computation came of age. Since then, "it has exploded exponentially," he said.
"The genomic sphere will make what came before look like child's play in the way we think of concepts and biology and improving outcomes."
'Not science fiction'
Advancements in science and information technology have made conquering the new genomic frontier more attainable, Chute said.
"When you look at networking speeds and computing capacities, our ability to process information has been multiplying every year - we have a 50-fold capability of information management since I was a child," he said. "When you think about it, caring for patients is 99 percent information and 1 percent intervention, so it's clear that with or without genomics, the paradigm is shifting. Bioinformatics brings a cutting edge capacity to healthcare."
Computer scientist Hank Wu says he is confident the technology for personalized medicine "is already here - we just need to combine it coherently and apply it to the healthcare setting."