On April 16th, US President Biden put taxpayer money behind the Administration’s pledge to “follow the science.” That’s the day he officially announced a US investment of $1.7 billion “to improve the detection, monitoring, and mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 variants and to build infrastructure for future genomic sequencing needs.” Tucked inside of that plan is $300 million earmarked to build and support a National Bioinformatics Infrastructure.
According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), This initiative will “support bioinformatics throughout the U.S. public health system, creating a unified system for sharing and analyzing sequence data in a way that protects privacy but allows more informed decision making.”
Further, in addition to creating a single bioinformatics system, the funding will also “support training to increase sequencing in clinical settings and expand CDC’s Bioinformatics Fellowship program.”
While the global threat of Covid-19 spurred this plan and its quick approval in the US, its function is not limited to this country or this particular pandemic.
The video below was produced for the "Discovering the Genome" curriculum by the High School Genomics Project at the University of Pennsylvania. It presents a good overview of how and why bioinformatics is the tool of choice in many different use cases.
Collaborations among scientists around the world are common, as is the sharing of findings. In any case, bioinformatics is an invaluable tool in many different health projects and throughout the changing times and challenges. Building a national bioinformatics infrastructure is not money that will be wasted, in other words.
“In order for us to even have the possibility of getting back to normal by the fall we need to massively scale up our genomic surveillance,” said Esther Krofah, who directs the Faster Cures initiative of the Milken Institute in an ABC report. “It’s the insurance program that you need to have in place not just now, not just for COVID, but going forward for other pathogens of concern.”
The move is neither political nor profit-driven, but an answer to a call made repeatedly over the years. Most recently that call rang loud and clear in a report published just last month in the journal Nature titled “Want to track pandemic variants faster? Fix the bioinformatics bottleneck.” The authors of that article said: “Tools, rules and incentives are buckling under the flood of coronavirus genome sequences — to help control the pandemic, researchers need new approaches.”
You could almost hear the world’s researchers breathe a sigh of relief at the news that the US is trying to break those bottlenecks and let knowledge rapidly build and flow.
While the US effort will help other countries too, some are hoping to similarly organize their own country’s bioinformatics efforts. If more do, the collective knowledge will likely change personalized medicine and public health in ways not yet imagined.
There could finally be a cure for cancer, an objective that President Biden has long sought throughout his long political career. There would likely also be more cures for a long list of diseases developing at record speeds.
For a look at how the world of medicine is using this information to tackle cancer, check out this short video on efforts at a cancer center in Canada.
In any case, putting money and solid commitments into bioinformatics projects is a winning call for any country and for the world at large.