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Tens, not thousands
STANFORD, Calif.—After 18 months of planning, the dean of the Stanford University School of Humanities & Sciences, Richard Saller, recently gave final approval for a new center that will fill the need for a unified genomics research center on campus. Led by genetics professor Carlos Bustamante and biology professor Dr. Marc Feldman, the new Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics will strive —successfully if the past is prologue—to improve the university's reputation in the field, as well as draw top talent to Stanford.
The new center will be in direct competition with institutions such as the Broad Institute, a joint Harvard-MIT initiative, for top-shelf researchers, money and prestige. But as Feldman notes, in terms of head count, "They have thousands, we have tens. But our missions will overlap."
And despite the differences in size and resources, Feldman is very confident that he and his colleagues will beat the odds.
"Stanford is not new to competition," he notes. "If history is any guide, we will prevail in this case as we have almost always done."
Next on the agenda, the new center's leaders will meet with the administration about what kind of space will be needed and how much of it. The university already has plans in place to expand its computational capabilities with space reserved for a large number of servers, Feldman notes.
From the beginning, the center was envisioned as the next step in Stanford's legacy of interdisciplinary research, which dates back to the 1960s. Feldman sees the center as a continuation of the work started by his doctoral advisor, the late Samuel Karlin, who led the university to prominence as an institution dedicated to interdisciplinary research efforts, and is recognized as one of the great applied mathematicians.
"The Stanford school of interdisciplinary research continues to thrive, and with this new center, we hope to continue that tradition of excellence," Feldman says.
Bustamante noted that while the need for a unified genomics research center was recognized, a concerted effort to establish one only began recently. The center has plans to include faculty members from the School of Humanities & Sciences, the School of Engineering, the School of Medicine and the Stanford Law School. In the next five years, the center, using seed funding from the School of Humanities & Sciences and the Office of the Provost, aims to gradually wean itself off of the university and eventually become viable through external research grants and philanthropic contributions.
In the beginning, the directors foresee a concentrated effort on building collective knowledge by sponsoring colloquia, symposia and lectures, hiring new postdoctoral fellows and engaging in genomic consulting for academics and industry. Chiefly, the center will specialize in the analysis of big data with a smaller emphasis on lab work.
In the long run, the goal is to create a new class of physicians that will be able to understand complex data and effectively communicate advantages and disadvantage of certain procedures to their patients. More broadly, Stanford plans to maintain and expand its reputation in the field, as well as broaden applications in genomics, help with external recruitment and add new research in the field. Proposed research projects include working with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity to investigate how social systems affect genomes, tracing our genetic history in collaboration with paleoanthropologists and examining the genomes of cultivated animals to see how they have changed over time.