Hackathon stimulates innovation and creativity

First Cambridge Bioinformatics Hackathon, 25-27th September 2017

New insights gained from genomic information are changing the way we diagnose disease, develop drugs and test for toxicity but there is a shortage of people with the skills and tools needed to analyse and interpret these data. To help build these skills the first Cambridge Bioinformatics Hackathon is to take place in the city on 25-27th September 2017. Organiser Steven Wingett, of the Bioinformatics facility at the Babraham Institute explains:

“We previously organised a Bioinformatics hackathon at the Babraham institute and it was very popular. The participants set themselves a variety of challenges and worked to solve them, drawing on the expertise that was available.

“At the end of the event we had produced a range of tools that helped with our work. It was fun, interactive, and it gave us a chance to try out new ideas and develop new software.”

The Cambridge event will take the same approach but a different format, with bioinformaticians invited from industry as well as universities and institutes: this will provide a diversity of experience and knowledge. Potentially a number of real world problems will also be proposed for the coders to work on.

Cambridge-based bioinformatics company Genestack is sponsoring the Hackathon. CEO Dr Misha Kapushesky worked with a number of start-ups while he was PhD student at Oxford University and then later in Boston. These experiences led him to strongly believe in the value of bringing together people who face similar challenges yet come from different settings.

He comments: “Hackathons are a great way to stimulate innovation and creativity. The event should provide a good opportunity to build skills, network with others and develop some great code to help push the boundaries in this exciting area of research.

“Working with large pharma we see an increasing need for tools that can free bioinformaticians from the more routine elements of their work, and allow them time to think about the bigger picture. The hackathon ring-fences time for creativity, and it will be interesting to see how they use it.”

Genomics data are held across institutions, by partners and in public repositories; finding and integrating this data can be challenging. Genestack has developed a flexible bioinformatics platform that allows biologists to find, visualise and analyse their data without the need for them to learn how to write code or to rely on bioinformatics experts. It also allows bioinformaticians to develop their own tools within the platform.

Wingett says that the Hackathon will have deliverable outcomes: “We plan to create a repository to share the code developed on the day, which should give rise to new collaborative bioinformatics projects.”

Kapushesky agrees: “The event should be very productive: we look forward to meeting skilled coders and looking for potential collaborations.”

Twitter #CamHack17.

More information http://casim.org.uk/hackathon