New technologies are driving the pace of scientific discovery in an unprecedented manner, and in the process, generating reams of data. As a result, science—like many aspects of our lives—has become so data-rich that a common bottleneck in modern research is the analysis of large amounts of information. In order to decipher biological phenomena that cause disease, and extract useful knowledge from the massive data sets collected from modern experiments, scientists need innovative and sophisticated tools and computational methods.
As a response to this changing landscape of research, the Gladstone Institute of Data Science and Biotechnology was launched in 2018 to develop new technologies and platforms that enable researchers to decode biomedical knowledge often missed by traditional tools and data collection.
This institute represents a unique way of bringing together technology creators, data scientists, and biologists in close collaboration. Its model allows technologists and computational biologists to be involved with disease-oriented scientists from the inception of each study, and also encourages experimentalists to help orient the development of the technologies upon which they rely.
Its goal is to create a central hub where mathematicians, engineers, and biologists work closely together to develop powerful solutions that can help scientists gather and analyze data more deeply and, ultimately, find new ways to treat disease. The research technologies they create will not only propel groundbreaking science at Gladstone, but also accelerate the pace at which useful tools are made available to the entire research community.
Gladstone researchers also focus on training postdoctoral scholars, graduate students, and interns so they can become the next generation of data scientists and technologists. Learn more about Gladstone’s training programs.
“By creating this technology hub in Mission Bay, we are also maximizing opportunities for our emerging tools to accelerate biomedical research.”
Major Scientific Achievements
Discovered Human Accelerated Regions in the Genome
Researchers discovered human accelerated regions (HARs), stretches of DNA that make us uniquely human and differentiate us from our primate ancestors. The team subsequently found that the vast majority of HARs—96%—are not genes. Instead, most are gene enhancers, which act like a dimmer switch for a lightbulb, turning gene activity up or down. They also found that HARs are partly responsible for controlling neuron growth and may guide genes involved in brain development, as well as psychiatric diseases that are uniquely human, such as autism and schizophrenia.
Used a Protein Mapping Technique to Find New Treatment Avenues for Numerous Pathogens
A team of Gladstone researchers perfected a technique called protein–protein interaction mapping that uses human cells in laboratory dishes to identify each point of contact between viral and human proteins. They then compared one virus’s map to another to find human proteins that are routinely targeted by several different viruses. The common human proteins—which could be considered the weak points of human biology—may be effective targets in treating many different viruses and other diseases. Thanks to this approach, they uncovered new potential approaches to combat tuberculosis infection, as well as the Ebola, Dengue, and Zika viruses, to name a few.
Improved Control of CRISPR Gene Editing
CRISPR is a tool that can remove, insert, or replace specific genes to make changes to DNA. The Cas9 protein is often used as the “scissors” that actually snip DNA in this gene editing technique. A group of researchers redesigned the Cas9 protein, allowing scientists to keep it turned off in all cells except its designated target. This “on switch” enables users to activate CRISPR only in selected cells, making it an even more versatile and precise tool.
Developed Computational Tools to Study the Microbiome
A group of researchers created new statistical models and bioinformatics tools to identify the genes and gene mutations that may be important to help microbes live successfully in the human gut. Their techniques could yield opportunities to predict if the microbiome will inactivate drugs given to a patient or prevent invasion of the gut by harmful pathogens like C. difficile. An important component of this work is developing open source software and web tools that allow other academics without the required in-house expertise to use these new computational techniques to analyze their own data.
Designed Technology to Record Cell Health Information in DNA
To understand how a cell changes during development or disease, it is important to measure the sequence of decisions it makes, but most laboratory techniques destroy cells when molecular measurements are made. A group of researchers used genome editing to create technology that enables scientists to observe dynamic processes unfolding in living cells by recording data into the cell’s own DNA.
Data Science and Biotechnology Experts
We believe in bringing together two types of scientists who are not typically co-located: research technology developers and quantitative methods experts, including those developing artificial intelligence approaches in the life sciences. This union enables us to measure and manipulate biological systems with unprecedented sensitivity while not drowning in the deluge of data or leaving biomedically useful knowledge on the table.
“We are also maximizing opportunities for our emerging tools to accelerate biomedical research.”
By doing so, we are leveraging—and building upon—Gladstone’s strength in developing experimental technology and computational tools while deeply integrating across our disease-focused research areas. By creating this technology hub in Mission Bay, we are also maximizing opportunities for our emerging tools to accelerate biomedical research.