6. Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics helps scientists handle very large amounts of data and it is becoming an important area in medicine research. The UK’s Public Health Genetics (PHG) Foundation defines bioinformatics as a field that ‘combines concepts and knowledge from computer science, statistics and biosciences in order to manage, search, visualise and analyse biological and medical data’.

Modern ‘omics’ technologies can create very large amounts of complex data from single experiments. Thanks to this, many potential biomarkers can be assessed for a link with, for example, a particular tumour type or a disease sub-group. Scientists often study very large sets of samples (e.g. blood samples from patients and healthy donors) which are organised and stored in biobanks.

Without reliable analysis, ‘omics’ data would be of no use. Bioinformatics for ‘omics’ research is therefore an important and developing field. For example, pharmaceutical companies can search through massive amounts of genomic data to find links between specific genetic variants and diseases. Computer modelling uses available data to predict or ‘model’ certain situations. This method is used to help predict both the likely benefits and possible side effects of as development candidate before it is tested in patients.