When a team of international researchers made headlines around the world after determining the entire human genome, the news caught the attention of then Dr Wei Shi.

It was 2003 and Wei had just arrived in Melbourne from his native China to take up a postdoctoral research fellowship at Deakin University’s School of Information Technology.

“This important milestone gave birth to the field of bioinformatics. At the time I was simply fascinated by this achievement and made the decision to switch my career from computer science to become part of this exciting new discipline called bioinformatics,” says Wei.

Bioinformatics combines biology, computer science, mathematics and statistics to develop methods and software tools for understanding complex biological data.

Wei worked for nine years in Professor Gordon Smyth’s Bioinformatics and Cancer Genomics Lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), where he was promoted to Lab Head in 2016.

In April 2020, Wei was recruited to ONJCRI where he established the Institute’s first Bioinformatics and Cancer Genomics Lab. Since coming on board, Wei has made a huge impact on ONJCRI research by contributing his bioinformatics expertise to many research projects in collaboration with most of the labs at ONJCRI. These projects investigate multiple different cancer types such as gastrointestinal cancer, breast cancer and brain cancer.

Wei’s work has been cited in more than 22,000 studies, and he was named on the Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher list in 2018, 2020 and 2021. This award recognises the world’s most influential researchers and illustrates the multidisciplinary relevance of his work.

Wei’s work on developing and improving bioinformatic methodologies benefits research has a large impact far beyond cancer research. The paper he and his colleague Dr Yang Liao published in NAR Genomics and Bioinformatics in 2020 is a case in point. The paper demonstrates that a time-consuming process called ‘Read Trimming’ can be excluded from the RNA-sequencing process without having a negative impact on results.

“Instead of convincing people to do something, I want to convince them not to do something,” explains Wei. “Our work in this 2020 paper shows that if researchers exclude the computationally intensive ‘Read Trimming’ from their sequence analysis process, they can reduce analysis time by 40 per cent yet gain similar results. Our method is faster and easier.”

Wei’s expertise has led to many collaborations here at ONJCRI and with researchers around Australia and the world.

“I’m passionate about bioinformatics research. I’m really excited every day by what we’re doing — developing new methods that will make a difference to basic science and the way that it impacts on clinical care.”