08 July 2016

Professor and Research Director Søren Brunak honoured with special award from the International Society of Computational Biology (ISCB)

At the ISCB conference 8 - 12 July 2016 - Bioinformatics pioneer Søren Brunak was honoured with the Senior Scientist Award


In the 1980s, the field was largely unknown, and everyone laughed at the computer nerds who believed that machines would be used to read data in the future. Thirty years later, bioinformatics has proved to be one of the fastest growing research areas, and one which provides essential building blocks for future prevention and treatment. One of the first to see its potential, Professor Søren Brunak, is now one of the most important driving forces behind bioinformatics. He is now being honoured by his colleagues with the prestigious Accomplishment by a Senior Scientist Award from the international organisation ISCB.

A pioneer in his field. Ground-breaking research. Huge international importance. There is no shortage of reasons, when the International Society of Computational Biology (ISCB) is describing why Professor Søren Brunak has received the Accomplishment by a Senior Scientist Award. The award has only been given a couple of times, and no Danes have so far achieved the special recognition of being nominated and selected by their peers.

"It's a great recognition, and I'm very happy. My colleagues have nominated me, so I assume that they think my work is both exciting and inspiring. I'm very proud of that, and I see it as a great source of motivation. At the same time, it's also a seal of approval and a recognition of the fact that we didn't give up, but developed a field of research at a time when most people laughed at us. We were on the right track already at that time; it was just difficult for the surrounding world to see the potential. But times have changed, and today people view data differently," says Professor Søren Brunak, who is Research Director at Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, where he heads up the 'Translational Disease Systems Biology' group.

First mover capable of seeing future potential
In 1993, Søren Brunak was awarded a major grant from the Danish National Research Foundation, which made him able to establish one of the first centres in the world working with bioinformatics.

"The Danish National Research Foundation had around 350 projects to choose between, and they awarded 23 grants. One of them went to bioinformatics, and it was an incredibly visionary choice. Many people simply didn't understand what it was about, but with the grant our field was finally recognised as a proper research area instead of being considered a niche area," says Søren Brunak.

Since the establishment of the centre in 1993, the area has experienced rapid development. Thanks to advanced software and hardware as well as new and important research and data in the area, bioinformatics is today an independent research and education area at all universities. The area has also been named one of the most important within recent technology, and in recent years there has been a lot of focus on how society can benefit from the large data volumes generated by the information society. The human genome has been fully sequenced, and now focus is on individual variation of importance for disease risk and the choice of treatment.

"Bioinformatics is, among other things, about analysing large data sets. When you say big data, you get the impression that large volumes of data are valuable in themselves. But the data only become interesting when we are able to extract the knowledge from them that gives us value. We must be able to combine one type of data with other data to get the information that can show us patterns and trends that were previously unknown, or which we only assumed to exist. If we can also make the systems provide us with recommendations as to how doctors best treat their patients, we have come a long way," says Søren Brunak.

"Crucial that others benefit from my methods"
Søren Brunak is, in particular, focusing on developing new approaches to systematising and analysing health and disease data, and he is a sought-after sounding board and mentor for his research colleagues. It is, however, crucial for him that his researchand knowledge are put to use.

"Our most cited method has been quoted up to 10,000 times, and that is, of course, a good quantitative measure that people can actually use what we're doing. We focus a lot on making sure that our methods are of benefit to others. My ambition is to create methods which are used and can improve the status quo and thus make a difference in society," says Søren Brunak.

The award has been published on ISCB's website (iscb.org), and Søren Brunak will receive it in July 2016. Check out ISCB press release July 2016