National recognition for WEHI bioinformatics researchers

The achievements of WEHI’s bioinformatics and computational biology researchers have been recognised with Australian Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Society (ABACBS) awards.

Smiling researcher

Professor Gordon Smyth has been appointed an

Honorary Senior Fellow of the Australian Bioinformatics

and Computational Biology Society (ABACBS)

ABACBS awarded its highest honour, an Honorary Senior Fellowship, to Professor Gordon Smyth, in recognition of his career achievements in developing innovative approaches to statistical and computational analyses of genomic data sets, in particular those generated by new scientific technologies. Professor Smyth has applied these techniques in collaboration with other researchers at WEHI and around the world to make significant discoveries relating to cancer, immunology and blood disorders.

Smiling researcher

Associate Professor Matthew Ritchie received

ABACBS’s Open Science Open Source Award

Associate Professor Matthew Ritchie also received the ABACBS Open Science Open Source Award for his creation of ‘open source’ software for genomics analysis, which can be used freely and adapted by other researchers, accelerating research advances and collaboration in the field.

At a glance

  • The Australian Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Society (ABACBS) has recognised WEHI researchers with two awards.
  • Professor Gordon Smyth has been appointed an ABACBS Honorary Senior Fellow, the society’s highest honour, for his career achievements.
  • Associate Professor Matthew Ritchie received the society’s Open Science Open Source Award for contributions to advancing genomics research through sharing new software he has developed.

Unravelling complex data

Bioinformatics and computational biology involve the the application of mathematics, statistics, and computer science to the study of biology. These disciplines play a key role in fundamental and translational research at WEHI, making sense of complex biomedical data and biological systems.

Professor Smyth’s ABACBS Honorary Senior Fellowship recognises his leadership and significant contributions to the fields of bioinformatics and computational biology in his 19 years at WEHI.

Professor Smyth said he was thrilled to work at the forefront of technological developments and to analyse cutting-edge data, produced by great biomedical scientists at WEHI.

“I started at WEHI in the same year as the publication of the human genome,” he said. “With a background in statistical analyses and computing, it has been a great opportunity for working in a quickly moving field. I’ve been able to develop new analytical approaches for a range of complex data sets generated by the latest genomics technologies.

“I have had the privilege of working with many wonderful scientific collaborators to apply new technologies to solve a range of questions in basic biology as well as diseases including cancer, immunology and blood disorders.”

Professor Smyth is one of Australia’s most highly cited medical researchers, and has been named as a Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher every year since 2013 – reflecting the widespread impact of Professor Smyth’s research across a range of fields. In 2020 alone, his research papers have already been cited nearly 18,000 times. He also leads WEHI’s bioinformatics division, a group of nearly 60 researchers. Past members of Professor Smyth’s research laboratory have gone on to bioinformatics leadership roles in Australia and internationally.

Professor Smyth said he was surprised and honoured to be selected as an ABACBS Honorary Senior Fellow. “I feel in good company, as the previous awardees are all very senior researchers who have made a significant contribution to building the bioinformatics profession in Australia,” he said. “It has also been a pleasure to work with several generations of young scientists and watch them develop. I feel this award is a tribute to my students, postdocs and collaborators, as well to me.”

Promoting open science

ABACBS’s Open Science Open Source Award recognises Associate Professor Ritchie’s leadership and contributions to collaborative ‘open science’, whereby research resources are widely shared, through his commitment to developing and sharing open source software for genomics analyses.

Associate Professor Ritchie’s research has focussed on developing new approaches to analysing a range of genomics data, leading to new software that his team shares freely through the Bioconductor project. He said open source software was an important way that computational biology could keep pace with rapidly evolving medical biology technologies.

“Making new analytical software freely available, and allowing all researchers to access the source code, has created a collaborative and highly responsive community of bioinformatics researchers, enhancing many aspects of medical research analysis around the world. It’s been wonderful to see the impact of software I’ve developed on answering a range of different research questions,” he said.

Associate Professor Ritchie has also held leadership roles in the Bioconductor organisation, and contributed to a variety of bioinformatics and computational biology training initiatives both in Australia and internationally.

Well-deserved recognition

WEHI director Professor Doug Hilton said the ABACBS awards reflected the high esteem in which the institute’s bioinformatics and computational biology researchers are held in the field, and also the impressive impact of their research. “Gordon and Matt are both very accomplished researchers and generously share their skills through collaborations with researchers from a range of disciplines.

“In particular, it is wonderful to see recognition of Gordon’s leadership of WEHI’s bioinformatics program, which is truly revolutionising how medical research is undertaken, and adds immense value to WEHI’s broader research capabilities,” he said.

Professor Smyth’s research is supported by an Australian NHMRC Principal Research Fellowship and a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for Essential Open Source Software.

Associate Professor Ritchie’s research receives support from CSL Limited and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Human Cell Atlas Program.

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