Launch of new analytics platform provides access to cutting edge tech for Harvard Chan School scientists

Tobias Walther (second from right), executive director of ChAMP, poses with a plaque at the launch event

November 27, 2019—Scientists across Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health got a major upgrade to their toolbox this week with the official launch of the Harvard Chan Advanced Multi-omics Platform, or ChAMP.

Housed in the Department of Molecular Metabolism, ChAMP consists of state-of-the-art mass spectrometry instruments developed by Thermo Fisher Scientific. The platform can provide exquisitely detailed analyses of small molecules—for example, it can identify novel proteins or lipids in a sample of blood. By helping researchers determine the composition of biological systems such as cells, they will be able to push the boundaries of proteomics, lipidomics, and metabolomics.

On Wednesday, November 20, 2019, dozens of students, faculty members, and representatives from Thermo Fisher Scientific gathered to celebrate the new platform. During opening remarks, Tobias Walther, professor of molecular metabolism and executive director of ChAMP, told the crowd that having access to this type of advanced technology will help researchers overcome fundamental challenges in the fields of biology and public health. “Establishing the composition of biological systems and how the composition changes is a key challenge in biology—and a challenge for public health,” Walther said. “It’s thus pivotal for us to develop new approaches to studying these biological systems so that we can pursue the mission of the school and improve public health around the world.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Walther, along with Robert Farese, chair of the Department of Molecular Metabolism, worked for several years with colleagues to develop and obtain an analytical platform that meets the needs of public health researchers. “This platform goes beyond our department and will allow epidemiologists and population health scientists to collaborate with basic scientists in new ways and make new discoveries,” Farese said.

Researchers in other departments at the School are eager to start collaborating and leveraging ChAMP on large-scale studies. “All of those great experiments that are discovering novel metabolic pathways and unique proteins and lipids usually happen in very tight experimental conditions and frequently with cell lines or mouse models,” said Eric Rimm, professor in the departments of epidemiology and nutrition. “What we offer as population scientists is cohorts of hundreds of thousands of people with stored blood, urine or stool samples; the new platform will enable us to study whether these novel markers can help us predict risk of future disease,” he said.

ChAMP will also be accessible to researchers from across Harvard and other research institutions, including those in Boston’s Longwood medical community.

A platform for innovation

Michael Grusby, acting dean for academic affairs and professor of molecular immunology, lauded the launch of ChAMP and said it will provide a venue for exploring early ideas among researchers. He also noted that having access to this technology will strengthen funding applications for research grants.

In addition to remarks from Mark Sanders and Daryl Belock from Thermo Fisher Scientific, Zon Weng Lai, director of ChAMP, walked through ChAMP’s workflow and explained to audience members how they’ll be able to get their research projects in the queue and collaborate with the lab. “We want to work with you,” Lai said. “We’ll be here to help guide you, to help train you, and to help make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.”

Sophisticated as the instruments are, Walther reminded the postdocs, students, and faculty in the crowd that their ideas and ambition are the greatest assets. “Technology can’t solve the problem—you can solve the problem,” he said. “Together with your innovation, we will do amazing things.”

photo: Kent Dayton

Chris Sweeney