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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Nov. 25, 2008 -- For many scientists, Google is not enough.

Despite the massive search engine's prowess, specialized investigators need ever-more-sophisticated ways of searching the World Wide Web for the latest data, analysis and research findings.

Dr. Zoe Lacroix, a computer scientist for the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), is at the forefront of those efforts. She was one of five keynote speakers at the 10th annual international conference for Information Integration and Web-based Application & Services. The iiWAS2008 hosted researchers and industry practitioners from 37 nations Nov. 24-26 at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria.

"Barely more than 10 years after the birth of the World Wide Web (and) in spite of the tremendous advances by engineers and scientists, the seamless integration of information and services remains a major challenge," according to the iiWAS2008 web site. "The current shared vision for the future is one of semantically-rich information and service-oriented architecture for global information systems."

Lacroix, an Associate Investigator at TGen's Pharmaceutical Genomics Division in Scottsdale, is working to find new ways of looking at biological data. Her goal is to find ways to share better information among TGen scientists, and the non-profit research institute's collaborators, in the search for new treatments and cures for cancer and other debilitating diseases.

"It takes extremely complex processes to reach those goals," said Lacroix, who also is an Associate Professor of Research in the Electrical Engineering Department at the Tempe campus of Arizona State University.

One of the biggest challenges facing bio-scientists at TGen and elsewhere is this: Huge amounts of information are being gathered and disseminated so fast that it is difficult for investigators to always know what constitutes the latest research, she said.

Among other things, Lacroix is working on ways that information can be used, updated and shared simultaneously.

New techniques will be critical as more doctors move into personalized medicine, in which laboratory discoveries and voluminous biomedical records are quickly translated into advanced treatments and cures tailored specifically for individual patients.

"TGen's Pharmaceutical Genomics Division is developing and applying innovative information technologies to extract clinically relevant insights from highly dimensional genomic data to help guide personalized therapeutic decisions," said Dr. Spyro Mousses, Director of TGen's Pharmaceutical Genomics Division.

"Dr. Lacroix's research is poised to revolutionize bioinformatics, and her unique approach to semantic representation of biological information will help us transform genomic data into knowledge to support drug discovery, drug development, and intelligence-based healthcare," Dr. Mousses said.

Between 1990 and 1996, Lacroix completed a doctorate degree in Computer Science and master's degrees in both Logic and Mathematics from France's University of Paris. She has taught at ASU since 2005. In between, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania, as a senior research scientist for the Data Logic division of Gene Logic Inc., and as a senior information exploration specialist for SurroMed Inc.

Since joining TGen in January, Lacroix has been prolific in writing and publishing scientific papers dealing with the sometimes-esoteric realm of computer- and web-based research and discovery.

One Lacroix paper published Sept. 8 in the International Journal of Computational Biology and Drug Design is about her creation of BIPASS, BioInformatics Pipeline for Alternative Splicing Services. A major aspect of BIPASS - one of the many fun acronyms with which she is associated - is what Lacroix calls the "splicing maturity tree." She describes it as a way of helping understand the phenomenon of alternative gene splicing, in which genes produce different kinds of proteins.

"I'm hoping this will be an interesting prediction tool," Lacroix said of the maturity tree, adding that the causes of alternative splicing and how it plays into the process of mutation and cancer formation remain unclear. "It occurs far more often than expected."

In association with colleagues at ASU and elsewhere, Lacroix is in the process of creating a new "smarter, better" version of BIPASS.

She also is part of an interdisciplinary group of ASU and TGen scientists putting together SPRINGS, Structural PRotein INformation Glossary Services. With the help of investigators at international research laboratories, they are developing systems biology resources that "aim at shedding more light on protein structure and folding," according to the SPRINGS web site.

Lacroix's latest scientific paper, published Oct. 22 in Nucleic Acids Research, is titled "SPROUTS: a database for the evaluation of protein stability upon point mutation." SPROUTS (Structural Prediction for pRotein fOlding UTility System) is a way to help analyze and predict patterns of mutations during protein folding, which is the process by which a polypeptide - a linear chain of amino acids; essential building blocks of life - folds into its characteristic and functional three-dimensional structure.

Another recent Lacroix paper, one related to SPROUTS, was published Oct. 17 in Lecture Notes in BioInformatics. She recently published yet another paper about DNA sequence alignment.

In addition, Lacroix was scheduled to make two presentations Nov. 25 at the iiWAS2008 conference, both revolving around the assembly's First International Workshop on REsource Discovery (RED). Lacroix was the workshop chair, representing TGen and ASU.

Lacroix said she hopes that her unique focus on bioinformatics will continue to lead to new understanding of the genetic, genomic and proteomic roles in the formation of diseases and how to treat and cure them.

"Most of the work here is that, to find new ways to look at things," Lacroix said. "You can always offer new glasses."

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About TGen
The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. Research at TGen is focused on helping patients with diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes. TGen is on the cutting edge of translational research where investigators are able to unravel the genetic components of common and complex diseases. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities, TGen believes it can make a substantial contribution to the efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process.

Press Contact:
Steve Yozwiak
TGen Senior Science Writer
602-343-8704
[email protected]


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