Genomenon, a spinoff company from the University of Michigan that makes software for genetic analysis, recently announced that it will offer a free edition of its Mastermind Genomic Search Engine to academic institutions, clinicians, and researchers.
"Using a Google search or even Google Scholar to search the literature is like searching for a needle in a haystack," says Genomenon CEO Mike Klein.
When a researcher searches for a specific genetic mutation that may cause cancer or another genetic disease, a search engine will return documents that range from patents to journal articles on biology. Even a well-trained researcher will have to spend hours hunting through thousands of articles to see if a document is clinically relevant.
"There were half a million papers related to genomics published just last year," Klein says. "That's a lot of new knowledge emerging around DNA diseases and diagnoses."
The professional version of Mastermind has been in use for six months, and helps researchers and clinicians find relevant studies and papers much more quickly.
However, Genomenon soon realized that many people who could benefit from Mastermind might not be able to afford the full professional version.
"You might have genetic counselors who see patients and want to translate genetic reports for patients," Klein says. "They might not be able to afford the professional edition, but a lot of value is provided in the free edition, and they could do some research before they counsel those patients."
The release of the free edition is meant as an altruistic move that will benefit the entire field of genetic analysis, but wider use of the search engine will also be beneficial to Genomenon as it tweaks Mastermind and gets ready to distribute it more widely.
Genomenon continues to offer a professional edition of Mastermind with enhanced data and clinical capabilities, data access tools for workflow automation and analyzing large sets of genomic data, and professional genomic data analysis services.
Klein says he's already heard reports from clients who have changed a diagnosis for a patient after using Mastermind.
"We're able to sequence DNA more cost-effectively right now, but the bottleneck is how to figure out what that data means," Klein says. "We're helping doctors get a faster diagnosis and make sure doctors never miss that important information that could save a patient's life."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Genomenon.