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HKU Biomedical Engineering Team Develop New Bioinformatic Tool

The cell is the basic unit of life. Over time, cells in the human body constantly change into different forms. While they have been studied for over a century, cells remain a challenging area to examine. This includes what they do and how they change over time during normal health or ageing, or how these changes in cellular structure result in diseases like cancer.

An interdisciplinary team led by Professor Kevin K.M. Tsia of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Hong Kong (HKU) has developed a new computational tool “VIA” that overcomes the current challenges in the study of normal and malignant cell transformation. VIA can discover elusive cell lineages and rare cell fates in a variety of biological processes that no other existing technology can do, shedding important light on how diseases evolve.

The new technology has been published in Nature Communications. Some research teams in the US and the Mainland have already adopted VIA for COVID-19 research, to track and predict immune responses after infections or vaccinations, and the body’s response to treatments. A media conference will be held on 8 February 2022 to introduce the new technology. And the researchers will also demonstrate how VIA works including revealing the fascinating and intricate process at a single cell precision that turns a single fertilised egg into a whole new individual with all the organs.

The global bioinformatics market size generated US$8.6 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach US$24.7 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 13.4% from 2020 to 2027. Bioinformatics is a combination of biology and information technology, which links biological data with techniques for information storage, distribution, and analysis to support multiple areas of scientific research, including biomedicine. It uses software tools for database creation, data management, data warehousing, data mining, and others. Mining such data leads to scientific discoveries, which is used in the study of genetics and genomes.

Several bioinformatics tools are available on the market. They are categorised as protein functional & analysis tools, homology & similarity tools, sequence analysis tools, and miscellaneous tools. The field covers many advanced and specialised areas of life such as structural genomics, functional genomics, DNA microarrays, comparative genomics, and medical information. Hence, these aforementioned factors boost the global bioinformatics market share.

While most industries struggled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some industries have seen a positive impact; one of these is the bioinformatics industry. This industry was already a fast-growing industry before the COVID-19 crisis hit. This is attributed to bioinformatics tools, which can handle large volumes of biological data, a term that was initially coined with the first sharing of biological sequence data. Bioinformatics has now become a multi-disciplinary area, which is of acute relevance in the current time.

The global bioinformatics market is expected to register substantial growth soon, owing to the rise in need for integrated data, rise in demand for nucleic acid & protein sequencing, owing to reduction in sequencing cost, and increase in applications of proteomics & genomics.

In addition, drug discovery & development and initiatives from government & private organisations are expected to boost the market growth during the forecast period. However, a lack of skilled personnel, common data formats, and lack of user-friendly tools at cheaper prices are projected to hamper the market growth during the forecast period. Conversely, an increase in the need for integrated solutions & systems, integration of machine learning & AI in healthcare and software companies investing in the development of bioinformatics solutions are expected to offer remunerative market opportunities to bioinformatics solution developers.

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