ECSU Professor Develops Bladder Cancer Database

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Dr. Garrett Dancik is a bioinformatician. Bioinformatics is a field that synthesizes biology, computer science, and statistics. By combining data collected by biologists with the processing power of computers, bioinformaticians make powerful analytical tools that can reveal the patterns behind seemingly mercurial diseases. As part of his work at ECSU, Dr. Dancik built a database that ultimately may help biologists develop new tools to diagnose and treat bladder cancer by making it easy to correlate bladder cancer with certain genes.

Every year 16,000 Americans die from bladder cancer. A new clinical tool could help lead to personalized treatment of bladder cancer. This is key, because for patients with invasive bladder cancer the survival rate is approximately 43%.

To diagnose and predict disease biologists rely on “biomarkers” — biological characteristics that indicate the presence or severity of a disease. A biomarker can be almost anything: a gene, a cell, a molecule. The more biomarkers that are known for a disease, the more accurately patients can be diagnosed and cared for.

Biologists can use Dancik’s database to find correlations between certain genes and bladder cancer. The database can also be used to investigate the relationship of the expression of genes commonly used across bladder cancer cell lines.Mountains and mountains of data become available every year. Dr. Dancik’s passion is to make sense of it. “With today’s technology there’s an enormous amount of data that can be generated. More than people are able to analyze…For cancer patients it is becoming more common to have their genomes sequenced. That’s about three billion characters long, so it is not that straightforward to make sense of all that data,” said Dr. Dancik.

The database makes it easy to utilize gene expression data in research. “I wanted to create a tool that would be easy for biologists. I wanted it to be user-friendly, a point and click. I put in all the bladder cancer sets I could find,” he said.

Moving forward, Dr. Dancik will continue to update the database so the information stays relevant for researchers. He is also looking to team up with biologists on new projects. “The way I look at it, the role of a bioinformatician is to analyze data to answer questions biologists are interested in. They are the ones generating data and asking questions about the data,” he said. He encourages biologists to reach out to him. He can be reached at dancikg@easternct.edu.

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