Workshop at Bilkent Brings Together Academics and Researchers in Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics, simply put, is a cross-disciplinary field where computer and information technologies meet biology and medicine. It's also a subfield where anticancer drugs are modeled, discovered and developed.

On October 17 and 18, a workshop on Bioinformatics for Anticancer Drug Discovery was held by Bilkent's Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and British Council Turkey. The workshop was an exercise in collaboration in both theoretical research and best practices in the field of bioinformatics for modeling protein drug interactions, bringing together academics and researchers from Turkey (Bilkent, Koç and Sabancı Universities), the UK and Spain

"Increasing knowledge about the functional genomics and molecular cellular biology of cancer has resulted in the discovery of new potential drug targets for anticancer drug discovery and development," commented Associate Professor Rengül Çetin Atalay from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, who chaired the workshop.

Topics like structural protein-protein interface modeling, interaction networks or systematic exploration of synergistic drug pairs might sound alien to the layman - but not to the 16 speakers and some 200 students and researchers who packed the auditorium.

Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw from the University of Edinburgh's Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology kicked off the workshop with a session on 3-D data mining approaches in the search for allosteric ligands. He presented a bioinformatics toolkit, which can be used in identifying small molecule inhibitors in a variety of systems, including protein-protein interactions, enzymes and allosteric proteins in cancer therapeutics. Professor Walkinshaw has already begun working on new collaborations with Turkish scientists, thanks to the workshop.

John P. Overington, from the European Bioinformatics Institute of the UK, was one of the speakers who focused on the importance of the construction of a large and general database enabling a linkage between the biological and chemical worlds, especially in health care. For Dr. Overington, "a conference that had a bi-national axis" like this one "worked really well in outlining potential collaborative opportunities - in a way that can't be done via simply reading the literature."

He also noted that the conference had featured "a great balance of technology and applications, and a balance of computing science and biology." Miguel Baldo Oliva from Barcelona Research Park of Biomedicine of Spain, who talked about scoring the network of protein-protein interactions, was another scientist pleased with the outcome: "The workshop was a great opportunity for exchanging programs, algorithms, but most importantly expertise, which you cannot exchange in any other way."

Having designed the workshop program and made sure that the discussions went smoothly and there was ample time for interaction, by the last session - her session, signal transduction score flow algorithm for drug response - Assoc. Prof. Atalay could rest assured that the event had been a success. "The workshop worked really well in establishing a chance for collaboration between Turkey and the UK, creating networks around common points," she said. "This was a great opportunity, and one that we hope will be a tradition."