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Simon Boardman Trainee Bioinformatician

Simon Boardman talks about the great opportunities and challenges facing bioinformatics
We’re going to explore the role of clinical bioinformatician in health care today. So let’s start off by just exploring who you are and your role and where you currently work. OK. So, I’m Simon. And I’m a trainee in clinical bioinformatics completing the scientist training programme. I’m doing this at the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. So we’re part of the clinical bioinformatics group, and we’re working at the bleeding edge of bioinformatics in patient health care. We do a wide range of things over the course of a typical day.
Normally, this can be running patient samples through our existing pipelines, working hard making new developments to try and improve those pipelines for patient care, writing a lot of documentation on how to use things and how they can be interpreted, and then communicating results to other clinical scientists and clinicians and troubleshooting things and getting to the bottom of answers and problem solving. So it’s a very varied role, which I enjoy. So how do you perceive the role of a clinical bioinformatician as really making a difference in the patient’s journey? Well, we have all these really big machines now that can work with really big data sets and can answer really in-depth questions that patients present with quite difficult diagnoses.
Being able to use that data in the best way for the patients to get new diagnoses or improve on existing ones is something really important that the bioinformatician can deliver and the ability to work at a seriously large scale and yet refine data so that a clinician or a genetic scientist can look at it, interpret it, and interpret it on a human level is a really important thing that we do. So can you explain the key skills that a clinical bioinformatician really needs to make sense of genomic data in the health-care setting? I think the main skill is going to be being able to communicate.
It’s all well and good being able to be a whizkid programmer and know loads of biology, but it’s a very multidisciplinary role. You talk to loads of different people every day, often explaining incredibly complex topics and refactoring difficult problems. So being able to write and a good email or give a presentation or even just pick up the phone and talk to someone is absolutely vital. Those are recently the key things that I feel I need in my role. So, what can we really learn from bioinformatics and research, and how do we translate this into health care? So, bioinformatics and research seems a much more mature kind of field.
I think that the main things that I’ve learned from communicating with research colleagues and academics has been good practises of scientific software development. There’s certainly a lot of overlap there and techniques that could definitely be employed to improve on the systems that we have now and in the future, make them more robust. I also think there’s quite a lot to be gained from working with industry. Again, really good working practises, implementation of agile methodologies, things like that, stuff that’s bog standard for routine computer science. That’s something that could definitely be implemented and make a really big difference to bioinformatics in a clinical genetics setting.
Simon, can you describe for me why this is really an exciting area to be working in? Everything just moves so fast. What we were doing last week is totally different to what we’re now doing this week. There’s new sequencing technologies, new algorithms being developed. You want to be able to take the best of breed and use it in the patient pathway, so that you’re getting the absolute best result for the patient. And that means moving really quickly. Being able to understand new developments and actually see how they can be applied in a clinical setting is a really good challenge. I really enjoy it. What are the challenges of working in this fast-paced, fast-moving environment?
Seeing all these new developments and being able to implement them and implement them properly is really difficult when there’s a new thing every week. You want to be able to take the absolute pinnacle of the area and transform it into the patient-care pathway. So being able to do that makes a big difference. But, obviously, if things are moving really quickly, that can be quite challenging to do. Another real issue we have is data storage. We’re bound data governance to store things for a huge amount of time. And these are really big files. It’s a very different sort of approach to what currently exists for paper records. And it’s one that is only going to get worse, really.
So it’s a good challenge to be able to find clever ways around it and would work through problems like that.

Meet Simon!

Simon Boardman – Trainee Clinical Scientist Genomics Bioinformatician – chats to Ang Davies on the future of bioinformatics – both the exciting opportunities and also areas of focus.

Simon describes the excitement of working at the bleeding edge of the delivery of clinical genomics, adapting and implementing new next generation sequencing bioinformatics pipelines is a routine part of his role. As is learning from his counterparts working in research, but more recently bioinformaticians within healthcare are working much more closely with industrial providers of clinical bioinformatics pipelines ensuring that they are fit-for–purpose and can integrate with laboratory systems and processes and deliver a clinical grade quality service.

Over to you

Can you find some commercial solution providers for next generation sequencing analysis, what do they offer?

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Clinical Bioinformatics: Unlocking Genomics in Healthcare

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