Bio-Health Informatics (BHI) combines biological and genetic information with clinical data and computer information systems. Our work optimises the use of data, information, and knowledge across molecular biology, clinical e-science and health care.
Advances in technology since the 1970s have made bioinformatics one of the fastest growing biological disciplines. Researchers in the area have now recorded over one million DNA and protein sequences. This sheer volume of raw data hides a wealth of potential knowledge, on everything from protein structure to disease mechanisms.
Biologists and the pharmacists face the challenge of extracting useful information from these sequences. When combined with clinical and health data, there is a vast amount of information that can be gleaned and deduced using computer science, information theory, and biology.
By helping develop standards, systems and shared data representations, BHI supports the vision of post-genomic medicine.
BHI scientists from Manchester helped an international team find two genes that may prove of vital importance to the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers in a tsetse fly-plagued swathe of Africa the size of the United States.
The research aimed to find the biological keys to resistance to a parasite that causes African sleeping sickness in people and a wasting disease in cattle. Although best known for causing human sleeping sickness, the trypanosome parasite's most devastating blow to human welfare comes in an animal form, with sick, unproductive cattle costing mixed crop-livestock farmers and livestock herders huge losses and opportunities. The annual economic impact of the disease that affects cattle has been estimated at US $4–5 billion.
The two genes could provide a way for cattle breeders to identify the animals that are best at resisting the parasites, which are transmitted to animals and people by the bite of infected tsetse flies.
Analyzing the vast datasets created in this research presented significant computational challenges. Andy Brass and his team in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester managed to capture, integrate and analyze the highly complex set of biological data by using workflow software called ‘Taverna,’ which was developed as part of a UK e-Science initiative by Manchester computer scientist Carole Goble and her ‘myGrid’ team.
The Taverna workflows we developed are capable of analyzing huge amounts of biological data quickly and accurately... Taverna’s infrastructure enabled us to develop the systematic analysis pipelines we required and to rapidly evolve the analysis as new data came into the project. We’re sharing these workflows so they can be re-used by other researchers looking at different disease models. This breakthrough demonstrates the real-life benefits of computer science and how a problem costing many lives can be tackled using pioneering e-Science systems.
Prof Robert Stevens is a Professor in the School of Computer Science at The University of Manchester. He was Program Chair and co-organiser for the International Conference on Biomedical Ontology (ICBO) 2012. He was co-chair of the Bio-ontologies SIG at ISMB for 8 years and was co-chair of the first UK Ontology Network meeting. Stevens is currently on the editorial board of the Journal of Biomedical Semantics.
The development and use of ontologies to describe biology to make knowledge about molecular biology computationally useful. In particular, the communal building of ontologies; enabling domain experts to use the power of formal, expressive languages, such as the Web Ontology Language (OWL).
Another, completely different, research area is accessibility of information on computers by people with a visual disability. In this work his main interests are in how to make complex information types as usable as possible by visually disabled, mainly blind, people. The high visual complexity of many of today's Web pages makes the Web one of these information types, but his interest expands to presentations of mathematics, chemical formulae and information in tables.
Prof Stevens is known for TAMBIS (Transparent access to multiple bioinformatics information sources). This was published by Stevens, R.; Ng, G.; Bechhofer, S.; Paton, N.W.; Baker, P.G.; Peim, M.; Brass, A in IBM Systems Journal 40 (2). PDF.
For general enquiries regarding the Bio-Health Informatics Group, please contact Prof Robert Stevens.
The Bio-Health Informatics Group is based in the Kilburn Building on Oxford Road. The University of Manchester website has detailed travel instructions.
The Kilburn Building is building number 39 on the campus map. When travelling on Oxford Road from the city centre you are heading South, and the Kilburn Building will be on your left.