AR-BIC 2018 Recap

The 4th annual meeting of the Arkansas Bioinformatics Consortium (AR-BIC) was successfully held March 23-24 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Attended by over 200 participants, AR-BIC 2018 was made possible through the generous support from a conference grant awarded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), sponsorships by the major Arkansas research universities in this field – University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), University of Arkansas (UA), University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA-Little Rock), University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), and Arkansas State University (A-State) – along with the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI) and TriNetX. The Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) acted as the lead organizer in addition to providing core sponsorship resources. This year’s overarching theme was “Data Analytics for Genomics and Beyond.”

AR-BIC was founded to foster a collaborative, Arkansas-based community in bioinformatics research and education among federal and academic institutions. Over the past few years, AR-BIC has gained tremendous momentum and popularity among the Arkansas scientific research community, which is evident by the increased number of participants each year.

The AR-BIC annual meeting has become the largest Arkansas bioinformatics gathering, which not only provides an opportunity for networking, collaborating and sharing ideas, but also a platform to highlight the excellent research conducted statewide. This year’s meeting was especially extraordinary as it announced the formation of the AR-BIC Governing Board and was heralded by a video greeting from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who highlighted the contribution and impact AR-BIC has made on the improvement of the state’s economy and research environment.

The two-day event opened with a pre-conference workshop by TriNetX, which, in addition to being a network of academic medical centers and pharma companies who collaborate on clinical trials, provide a technology application to access clinical trial cohort data. Plenary talks centered on generalized data analytics of genomics data, textual data, business data, and chemical data by eleven internationally renowned scientists located in Arkansas, and by two visiting scientists from Argonne National Lab, Illinois, and East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.

Arkansas-based plenary speakers were graciously provided by NCTR, UA-Little Rock, UA, and UAMS. AR-BIC also hosted two speakers from the corporate sector – J.B. Hunt (logistics technology) and MISO (energy grid management). Each speaker shared data-analytics trends in their areas of expertise, along with strategies and methodologies they employ using a different range of data – from genomics and textual to chemical and business. Striking similarities were discovered in the underlying data analytics methodologies across all types of sectors, a promising segue for future collaboration among data scientists from state universities and business.

In addition, more than 30 posters were presented, predominantly by students from the partner universities, providing them an important training opportunity, and sparking continued conversations throughout the consortium. AR-BIC members hailed from all corners of the state, arriving from NCTR, UA-Little Rock, UAMS, A-State, UA, UAPB, and USDA. The full conference program can be accessed at www.aralliance.org/ar-bic.

With this success, we are now planning AR-BIC 2019, to be hosted February 25-26, 2019, at UAMS.

 

ARA Profile: Rebecca Lochmann Takes on the World

In the late 1990s, catfish farming was a $50M+ industry in Arkansas, with nearly 160 farms providing a good living to many hardworking people in the Mississippi Delta. But sudden competition from Vietnam and other Asian countries has cut Arkansas catfish sales half. Today, according to Catfish Farmers of America, two-thirds of the catfish sold in American restaurants and grocery stores are Asian sourced.

Dr. Rebecca Lochmann, Interim Center Director for the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, has worked closely with area catfish farmers for more than two decades, developing feeds that not only reduce operating costs, but also help farmers produce healthier, higher quality catfish.

By experimenting with different oils and fatty acids, Dr. Lochmann can actually change the lipid composition of fish by altering the composition of the diet.

“We want to make the fish have the characteristics we want to eat,” says Dr. Lochmann, “Make it have healthy fatty acids, make it taste good, make it fresh and looking good in the market.”

Changing the composition of catfish not only makes the fish more aesthetically pleasing to consumers, it also makes it a healthier meal. Unlike other popular dinner fish (like trout and salmon), catfish produce relatively low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which lower certain risks of cardiovascular disease and improve some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Simply put, a catfish infused with omega-3 fatty acids could provide a healthy benefit to consumers, and can also provide an intriguing selling-point for Arkansas farmers looking to compete with cheaper Asian imports.

Still, the research is not without its challenges. Dr. Lochmann was successful in changing the fish composition, but initial tests revealed that consumers were not fond of the taste.

“I then collaborated with a researcher at Fayetteville who provided me with a modified soy bean oil,” said Dr. Lochmann. “With it, we achieved the same composition, but people couldn’t taste a difference.”

Arkansas is second in the country for total aquaculture production, with catfish and bait-fish like bass generating tremendous revenue for the state. Dr. Lochmann’s work ensures that aquaculture continues to be an important driver of the state’s economy.

A 2017 ARA Fellow, Dr. Lochmann and her team evaluate the efficacy of alternative dietary protein and lipid sources, prebiotics and probiotics, and other feed additives on the growth, health, product quality and reproductive performance of baitfish, catfish, largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass and tilapia. Cost-effectiveness of these ingredients is assessed where possible, to estimate the effects of diet manipulations on production profitability of these species.

Breakthrough: 3 Ways Liquid Biopsy Can Revolutionize Treatment for Lung Cancer

Each year, 215,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer. The epidemic is especially burdensome to Arkansas with death rates far higher than the national average. A lung biopsy – an invasive procedure needed to diagnose lung cancer – is both uncomfortable, risky for the patient, and expensive. But promising research conducted by in-state institutions is changing the game.

Through a partnership between UAMS, UA Little Rock, UAPB, UA, Arkansas Research Alliance, and the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), a new technique is being developed for diagnosing lung cancer – liquid biopsy. Unlike traditional biopsies, liquid biopsy is non-invasive, performed through a routine blood draw.

How does this pioneering medical research impact Arkansas? We’ll give you three reasons.

  1. A significant cut in medical costs. Nearly 2,800 Arkansans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. The average cost of a traditional lung biopsy is $3,700. A liquid biopsy, which is not a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia, is far less expensive.
  2. Treatment (and outcomes) will improve. Liquid biopsies grant caregivers the unique ability to regularly monitor a patient’s response to therapy. In addition, disease recurrence is detected much sooner by a liquid biopsy versus conventional medical imaging.
  3. Arkansas receives an economic shot in the arm. The state is just scratching the surface of medical innovation and drug discovery, a multi-billion dollar industry. Innovations like liquid biopsy position Arkansas as an emerging med-tech hot spot.

Arkansas Research Alliance collaborates closely with in-state research institutions like UAMS, NCTR and the state’s other research universities so that science is allowed to flourish. Supporting research like liquid biopsy is crucial to Arkansas’ economy, reputation and health.