Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Request for feedback: help us improve our tools!

Hello, all!

Greetings from your new Monarch blogger! I’m Lilly, and I will be taking over this blog space to keep you updated about exciting developments being done at the Monarch Initiative. I recently completed my PhD in neuroscience from Oregon Health & Science University, and I am very excited to work with the Monarch team to further study the relationships between genes, phenotypes, and diseases.

During my PhD, I studied how the brain’s innate immune system responds after an injury. Interesting fact: our brain’s immune system is separated from the rest of our body by the blood brain barrier. While white blood cells (leukocytes) patrol our bodies for disease and foreign objects, glial cells defend the brain. Glial cells also have various other functions, including creating myelin (insulation for neurons), and glial cell malfunction can lead to numerous diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis.

I researched how glial cells react to brain injury by performing experiments with the model system Drosophila melanogaster, also known as the fruit fly. Fruit fly brains are actually strikingly similar to human brains, even though they are very tiny! From my research, I learned that a gene called PP4 is vital for maintaining brain health. PP4 isn’t only important in fruit flies; it is also present in humans and has been implicated in cancer.

Scientists use many different model organisms for research, such as the roundworm C. elegans and the zebrafish Danio rerio. Animal models are integral for understanding how human bodies function; my upcoming blog post will go into more detail about why scientists need to study all organisms to advance our understanding of biology.

In my new role within the Monarch team, I will be working to implement a “help desk” function to answer questions that Monarch users have. There are several ways you can help us help you. Have you tried our Phenogrid widget to compare genotype and phenotype data across multiple models? What about our Text Annotator, which will take blocks of text and pull out phenotypes that you can use for comparing against other diseases or models? Do you have exome data you need help analyzing? Are you a developer? You can help us improve the Monarch tools by contributing directly in GitHub. Our tools are focused on helping researchers and clinicians make useful connections by integrating various types of data, such as genotype and phenotype data, from multiple species.

To help us make better tools, please browse for your favorite genes, diseases, phenotypes/symptoms, or models on MonarchInitiative.org, and email us with questions or leave us feedback by creating an issue ticket on our Github account. I look forward to hearing from you!

More about Lilly: Lilly was born and raised in the deserts of west Texas, although she has lived in Rochester, New York; Quito, Ecuador; London, UK; and Portland, OR. Lilly is a founding member of Portland’s Women in Science organization, and is passionate about supporting the advancement of diverse peoples in the sciences. In her spare time, Lilly hangs out with her dog Ladybird and reads sci fi and murder mystery novels.