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biopharmaceutical glossaries & taxonomies
These glossaries & taxonomies are a project of Mary Chitty, Library Director & Taxonomist at Cambridge Healthtech Institute. We try to follow new and evolving trends in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and life sciences, particularly early drug discovery and development, informatics including bioinformatics, clinical trials and Regulatory Affairs and technologies. Keeping up with new biopharmaceutical and biomedical technologies and terminology are challenges for everyone these days, including us!
When I started this project in 1999 it seemed as if the web was the only way to keep up with such rapidly changing concepts. But as they have evolved I have come to realize that while I keep adding content, what is here doesn't become out of date nearly as quickly as I expected, and a print version could be very useful. I'm actively looking for a publisher and offer the Concise Biopharmaceutical Glossary as a draft manuscript.
Varying purposes demand different degrees of depth and preparation. By doing your homework, many subjects can become more accessible than they appear at first glance. Knowing how to ask informed questions is more important than seeming to know all the answers. Some questions clearly don't have complete answers yet.
Not only for biologists or chemists – and not only for
The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have become much more science (and information) driven in recent years, but the rate of change (both technological and cultural) can be pretty slow. Diffusion of Science Driven Drug Discovery Organizational Change in Pharmaceutical Research, Rebecca Henderson, Iain Cockburn and Scott Stern http://www.nber.org/papers/w7359
Cutting edge technology demands considerable investment. Public- private collaborations are increasingly the way the biggest bioscience projects get done. Progress rarely happens as quickly as people want (or predict). Advances in molecular biology in the 1970's were responsible for the growing influence of biotechnology in the 1980's and 1990's -- and while genomics and proteomics have been more in the lab than in the clinic, hospital and health professionals' offices, this is very much in the process of changing.
We all need to know more about how molecular biology will be influencing personal decisions - and public debate.
Not authoritative or definitive
Descriptive - not prescriptive definitions
Not primarily focused on clinical applications
I urge people using the web for finding information on medical issues to carefully and critically evaluate where the information is coming from, whether it is up to date (far too few websites clearly date information) and whether the provenance of information and suggestions for additional resources are clearly indicated. For more information on this too seldom discussed topic see Susan Detwiler's "Charlatans, Leeches, and Old Wives: Medical Misinformation" Searcher 9(3), Mar. 2001. http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/mar01/detwiler.htm
Go beyond basic research
These (relatively) short and selective (30 - 60+ definitions each, or 6 - 8+ printed pages, if you use the smallest type) glossaries are organized by subject. Some organizations, government agencies, and cryptic acronyms are included selectively. This website is not so much a dictionary, but a quickly scannable series of brief guides, arranged to provide suggestions for related and broader and narrower terms of possible interest. I know this needs to go into a database, and am working on that (slowly, given my limited budget).
Hard(er) to find definitions
Unfamiliar technologies can be particularly intimidating to the uninitiated. Definitions of relevant technologies and instrumentation are provided, with various links and contexts. Some less familiar basic terms (but not particularly new technologies) may be included selectively.
Old words, new meanings
Other terms have long been used by biologists, but are now in the process of evolving new meanings in a genomic context (gene, phenotype, genetic testing). Still others need a specific genomic context (profiling, scoring, or threading).
An early discussion of which terms to define for a report glossary led a reports editor to suggest that any word in the text not in the standard spell checking software should be a candidate. This was said (only) half jokingly. As I began to research terms I was struck by how little overlap there was in genetic and proteomic terminology, and while the gap is narrowing it is still an issue.
I had become interested in identifying terminology used by different specialties with variant meanings when I ran the first Cambridge Healthtech Bioinformatics conference in San Francisco in June 1995 (originally started at Florida State University in 1991). Discussions of communication difficulties between biologists and computer scientists, and the lack of interoperability between various databases sounded very familiar to a librarian. These differences can be particularly elusive, since each group tends to assume the other is making the same assumptions about nuances and implications, usually without explicitly verifying those assumptions.
I've taken heart from Steven Weinberg's Four Golden Lessons, Nature 426: 389, 27 Nov 2003 "How could I do anything without knowing everything that had already been done? ... [graduate school] was sink or swim.... I did learn one big thing: that no one knows everything, and you don't have to. Another lesson to be learned ... is that while you are swimming and not sinking you should aim for rough waters. My advice is to go for the messes -- that's where the action is... My third piece of advice is probably the hardest to take. IT is to forgive yourself for wasting time... If you want to be creative, then you will have to get used to spending most of your time not being creative, to being becalmed on the ocean of scientific knowledge. Finally, learn something about the history of science, or at a minimum the history of your own branch of science. The least important reason for this is that the history may actually be of some use to your ... More importantly, the history of science can make your work seem more worthwhile to you.
I'm realizing that the variety of skills and domain expertise needed for breakthroughs in the life sciences is more than anyone discipline and/'or lifetime(s) can muster. While new technologies might be helpful, cultural shifts, incentives for collaborating, and pre-competitive cooperation will also be important. Incremental changes can be helpful more frequent than true paradigm shifts. Industrialization, scalability and automating and ramping up processes to move from the R&D lab into the clinic are under-appreciated challenges, as are marketing dilemmas that come about with disruptive technologies.
Style guides [not necessarily followed] You might consult Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style or the CDC Centers for Disease Control Emerging Infectious Diseases Author Resources https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/page/author-resource-center
Defining -- and
understanding -- evolving terminology is an iterative process. Definitions
are a work in progress. I look forward to receiving your comments,
suggestions and questions.
& Taxonomies resources
IUPAC Gold Book, Obsolete terms http://goldbook.iupac.org/lists/list_obsoleted.html
The Peril of
Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers, Gillian Tett
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