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Victor Markowitz Returns to LBNL to Head Bio Data Management Center

February 2, 2004

Victor Markowitz, an internationally recognized expert in data management, rejoined Berkeley Lab this month to establish and lead the Biological Data Management and Technology Center (BDMTC). Victor returns to the Lab after six years at Gene Logic, where he was Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President, Data Management Systems. Before joining Gene Logic in 1997, he worked for 10 years at LBNL, mostly on developing data management tools for biological databases.

Victor Markowitz

In his new position at LBNL, Victor intends to apply industry practices to developing robust systems for managing the increasingly complex data being produced by life sciences groups. His initial work is with DOE's Joint Genome Institute and he is also involved in a UC Berkeley proposal to establish a National Center for Biomedical Computing (NCBC), where BDMTC will provide the data management and software development resources. His goal is to get the new center involved in a number of collaborative projects, then share both his group's expertise, tools and results among collaborators.

His efforts are already attracting interest outside the Lab, too. The Feb. 2 issue of the newsletter "Bioinform" includes a feature story on Victor's move back up the Hill, and the San Francisco Business Times also interviewed him last week.

Creating a data management center at the Lab directly addresses issues raised in recent DOE and National Insitutes of Health (NIH) documents, Victor said, with regard to the need for improved data management and software development capabilities. In particular, the NIH documents recommend employing advanced data management technologies and software engineering principles for delivering robust and reliable tools and systems for biomedical research.

Data management and bioinformatics software development challenges are also discussed in DOE's Genome to Life (GTL) program. GTL envisions different types of facilities generating data that would be organized in a variety of databases, including expression, proteomic, protein-function, chemistry and pathway databases. Data will be collected, archived and passed through a number of processing stages, including data annotation and integration, whereby a "seamless and effectively centralized capability to deal with data" in the form of data centers collecting and integrating effectively large scale biological data is seen as key to GTL's success.

Meeting these needs is the goal of Victor and his fledgling group. Having one center to provide data management expertise to multiple groups makes sense on a number of levels, he said. First, data management and software development organizations are common in industry, where these resources are seen as important assets. Such organizations are expensive and difficult to set up, and therefore providing a centralized resource to work on multiple projects is more cost-effective.

Introducing industry practices and standards to academic organizations will add value to existing research and development efforts. "Post-docs and grad students are excellent at innovation, but often cannot afford going beyond a prototyping stage. They don't have the time or resources needed for turning prototypes into robust, scalable, industrial-strength tools," Victor said. "Our center will provide the experience and expertise needed for this purpose."

And unlike industry, the goal of Victor's center will be to facilitate sharing the results of their work across projects and organizations. Victor began thinking about setting up such a center late last year when Gene Logic started to shift its focus to services.

"I enjoyed my work in both academia and industry, and wondered whether there could be a way of combining the best of both worlds, in particular, rigorous industry practices with innovative and sound academic research," he said. "Setting up the Center at the Lab aims at achieving this goal."

Horst Simon, director of the NERSC Center and Computational Research Divisions, asked Victor to consider returning to the lab in the fall of last year. After spending several months meeting with various groups at LBNL, JGI, UCB and UCSF to determine the level of interest in his center, Victor joined the Lab on Jan. 4.