Case Study

A digital interface to explore genomics data  

The Challenge

Scientists at The Jackson Laboratory, a Maine-based nonprofit biomedical research organization and Roux Institute founding partner, study genomics to better understand human health and what causes disease. These scientists produce vast amounts of research that advance knowledge, and the methodologies and datasets from one project can often be useful to another scientist’s work. But JAX researchers didn’t have an efficient way to discover each other’s work and determine whether it’s compatible with their own.  

Data is the fuel of the biomedical research engine at JAX. But researchers don’t need just any dataset to validate findings or train AI models - they need the right data. This is a classic needle-in-a-haystack problem. Our collaboration with Northeastern opened our eyes to new ways of searching our vast archives to power the engine of biomedical research.

Jake Emerson

Associate Director, Computational Science

The Jackson Laboratory

The Partnership

JAX software engineers and scientists, led by Jake Emerson, partnered with the Roux and Northeastern’s Center for Design to devise and build a system that would meet the organization’s research needs. The Center for Design’s founding director, Paolo Ciuccarelli, is an internationally renowned expert in information design. His work makes complex data more accessible, understandable, and useful through dashboards, data visualizations, and other digital and non-digital data experiences. For this project, Ciuccarelli worked together with graduates from Northeastern’s information design and data visualization master’s program. 

Working closely with JAX, the Northeastern team sought to create a digital user experience that could help JAX researchers find, explore, compare, and share each other’s experimental findings and digital resources. This was a key to the early development of a platform that, today, is JAX BioConnect. Over six months, the team aligned on the project goals, shared visualization ideas, and brainstormed how others would use and navigate through the system. The Northeastern team created myriad prototypes for evaluating and refining ideas. The success of this project was due to the close collaboration among JAX research scientists, scientific software engineers and experts across Northeastern University.

The Outcome

Ciuccarelli’s team, in collaboration with JAX, created a final prototype that provided a framework for working with large amounts of experimental genomic data. The prototype helped JAX take a more effective approach to data searches, particularly by using visualizations.  

Our commitment to solving real-world problems in Maine is strengthened by our ability to engage subject matter experts from across Northeastern.

Michael Pollastri

Senior Vice Provost and Academic Lead

The Roux Institute

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