Biology has always been a haven for microscopes, test tubes, and Petri dishes, but this conventional picture of the field is expanding rapidly. Sophisticated techniques adapted from physics, chemistry, and engineering enable scientists to use computers and robots to separate molecules in solution, read genetic information, reveal the three-dimensional shapes of natural molecules like proteins, and take pictures of the brain in action. All of these techniques generate large amounts of data, and biology is changing fast into a science of information management.
Today's biomedical researcher routinely generates an amount of data that would fill multiple compact discs, each containing billions of bytes of data. (A byte is approximately the amount of information contained in an individual letter of type on this page.) There is no way to manage these data by hand. What researchers need are computer programs and other tools to evaluate, combine, and visualize these data. In some cases, these tools will greatly benefit from the awesome strength of supercomputers or the combined power of many smaller machines in a coordinated way but, in other cases, these tools will be used on modern personal computers and workstations.
The Bioinformatics and Computational Biology initiative has taken shape in the National Centers for Biomedical Computing. Through this program, the NIH Common Fund is paving a future "information superhighway" dedicated to advancing medical research. Since 2004 there have been 8 Centers funded with research focuses covering : biophysical modeling, biomedical ontologies, information integration tools for gene-phenotype and disease analysis , systems biology, image analysis, and health information modeling and analysis.
As the Centers begin to generate the software and data management tools to serve as fundamental building blocks for 21st century medical research, individual scientists are being funded to work together with the centers. "Big science" and "small science" work hand-in-hand in this program to advance all of biomedical research. Through continued efforts, researchers will be able to share data gathered from large experiments. Developers of the program envision a system that will ultimately resemble the integrated software packages for office tools installed on most home computers today, in which information can be traded seamlessly and cooperatively analyzed. The best minds will be able to work together effectively to tackle unsolved mysteries, such as the role of heredity in individuals' different responses to medicines and the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors in common diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
For more information on the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology initiatives, contact Peter Lister, Ph.D., National Institute of General Medical Sciences, (301) 451-6446, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Common Fund is supporting five new awards in fiscal year 2010 to continue development of national resource centers for biomedical computing through the National Centers for Biomedical Computing (NCBCs) program. Five of the awards provide a second cycle of support for existing Centers; one award will create a new Center at the University of California, San Diego. During this second phase of the program, the Common Fund will co-fund three of the five awards with one or more NIH Institutes for a total of 4 years (FY2010-FY2013); two of the five projects will continue into a fifth year (FY2014) and be supported solely by the lead ICs.
Exciting new awards address key areas:
Dr. Russ Altman and his team at Stanford University are continuing their work at the National Center for Simulation of Biological Structures (SimBioS) to develop, disseminate and support a simulation toolkit (SimTK) that enables users to create and visualize accurate models and simulations of biological structures at all scales, from atoms to organisms (5U54-GM072970-04). Project is led by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).
Dr. Andrea Califano of Columbia University is continuing the creation of a National Center for the Multiscale Analysis of Genomic and Cellular Networks (MAGNet), an integrative computational framework for the comprehensive mapping and analysis of molecular cellular interactions of important biological processes that underlie health and disease (5-U54-CA121852-05). Project is led by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Dr. Ron Kikinis of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA is continuing the foundational work of the National Alliance for Medical Image Computing (NA-MIC) in advancing medical image analysis and computing to enable personalized medicine (5-U54-EB-005149-06). Project is led by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB).
Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, led by Dr. Isaac Kohane, are continuing their work on Informatics Integrating Biology and the Bedside (I2B2), a scalable computational and organizational framework for conducting clinical research across large multidisciplinary academic medical centers (U54-LM-008748-07). Project is led by the National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Dr. Mark Musen at Stanford University is leading a team of researchers working in the National Center for Biomedical Ontology (NCBO) to develop new tools and methods to improve the management, integration, visualization, analysis and interpretation of huge, distributed data sets, the hallmark of biomedical research and clinical care (U54-HG-004028-06). Project is led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
Dr. Lucila Ohno-Machado at the University of California, San Diego is leading the creation of a new national center called IDASH that will develop novel algorithms, open-source tools, and computational infrastructure and services to enable biomedical and behavioral researchers nationwide to Integrate Data for Analysis, Anonymization, and Sharing (U54-HL-108460-01). Project is led by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
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