STANFORD, Calif.—After 18 months of planning, the dean ofthe Stanford University School of Humanities & Sciences, Richard Saller,recently gave final approval for a new center that will fill the need for aunified genomics research center on campus. Led by genetics professor CarlosBustamante and biology professor Dr. Marc Feldman, the new Stanford Center forComputational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics will strive —successfully if thepast is prologue—to improve the university's reputation in the field, as wellas draw top talent to Stanford.
The new center will be in direct competition with institutionssuch as the Broad Institute, a joint Harvard-MIT initiative, for top-shelfresearchers, 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, Feldmanis very confident that he and his colleagues will beat the odds.
"Stanford is not new to competition," he notes. "If historyis 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 withthe administration about what kind of space will be needed and how much of it.The university already has plans in place to expand its computationalcapabilities with space reserved for a large number of servers, Feldman notes.
From the beginning, the center was envisioned as the nextstep in Stanford's legacy of interdisciplinary research, which dates back tothe 1960s. Feldman sees the center as a continuation of the work started by hisdoctoral advisor, the late Samuel Karlin, who led the university to prominenceas an institution dedicated to interdisciplinary research efforts, and isrecognized as one of the great applied mathematicians.
"The Stanford school of interdisciplinary research continuesto thrive, and with this new center, we hope to continue that tradition ofexcellence," Feldman says.
Bustamante noted that while the need for a unified genomicsresearch center was recognized, a concerted effort to establish one only beganrecently. The center has plans to include faculty members from the School ofHumanities & Sciences, the School of Engineering, the School of Medicineand the Stanford Law School. In the next five years, the center, using seedfunding from the School of Humanities & Sciences and the Office of theProvost, aims to gradually wean itself off of the university and eventuallybecome viable through external research grants and philanthropic contributions.
In the beginning, the directors foresee a concentratedeffort on building collective knowledge by sponsoring colloquia, symposia andlectures, hiring new postdoctoral fellows and engaging in genomic consultingfor academics and industry. Chiefly, the center will specialize in the analysisof big data with a smaller emphasis on lab work.
In the long run, the goal is to create a new class ofphysicians that will be able to understand complex data and effectivelycommunicate advantages and disadvantage of certain procedures to theirpatients. More broadly, Stanford plans to maintain and expand its reputation inthe field, as well as broaden applications in genomics, help with externalrecruitment and add new research in the field. Proposed research projectsinclude working with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity toinvestigate how social systems affect genomes, tracing our genetic history incollaboration with paleoanthropologists and examining the genomes of cultivatedanimals to see how they have changed over time.