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Like a magician who says, “Pick a card, any card,” Stanford University computer scientist Debashis Sahoo, PhD, seemed to be offering some kind of trick when he asked researchers at the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine to pick any two genes already known to be involved in stem cell development. Finding such genes can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Sahoo was promising the skeptical stem cell scientists that, in a fraction of a second and for practically zero cost, he could find new genes involved in the same developmental pathway as the two genes provided.

Sahoo went on to show that this amazing feat could actually be performed. The proof-of-principle for his idea, published online March 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, opens a powerful, mathematical route for conducting stem cell research and shows the power of interdisciplinary collaborations in science. It also demonstrates that using computers to mine existing databases can radically accelerate research in the laboratory. Ultimately, it may lead to advances in diverse areas of medicine such as disease diagnosis or cancer therapy.

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