U-M Health System
New Medical School center will stimulate collaboration
Here's the biological equivalent of the old needle-in-a-haystack problem: It takes about 24,000 protein-coding genes and nearly 3 billion bits of DNA to make a human being. Hidden in this mountain of complex genetic data is information that will help scientists discover how to cure cancer, prevent diabetes or treat severe depression. The problem is how to find it.
At least part of the solution will be found in collaboration and computerization, says Dr. Gilbert Omenn, professor of internal medicine, human genetics and public health. Tomorrow's breakthroughs in biomedical research will be made by networks of scientists working together using shared computer resources, tools, data and software, he says.
To expedite these interdisciplinary breakthroughs, the Medical School is providing $2 million in initial funding to establish a new Center for Computational Medicine and Biology (CCMB). The center's mission is to support and enhance collaborations that link biomedical research with bioinformatics, engineering and computational science resources across the University.
"This new center will make it easier for clinicians and researchers to share data in a cooperative environment that supports integration and analysis of data at all levels," says Medical School Dean Dr. Allen Lichter. "CCMB will position the U-M as a leader in the integration of biomedical information and the development of advanced computer technology."
"Combining U-M resources and expertise will enhance our ability to collaborate with our colleagues both at Michigan and around the country," says Omenn, CCMB director. "Our goal is to create a computational environment that supports data analysis, simulation, concept-building, design of new experiments and multi-investigator collaboration. By improving our ability to integrate research and analysis, we will be in a better position to make progress on complicated diseases that are frustrating the biomedical research community."
Omenn says the center is an interdisciplinary research, training and service organization that will enhance informatics-based systems modeling and data integration from biomedical research. Its main focus will be supporting interdisciplinary research involving advanced scientific disciplines like genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics. Initially, research at the center will focus on biological problems related to prostate cancer, diabetes (type 1 and type 2) and bipolar depression.
CCMB also will provide the administrative infrastructure for major U-M computational initiatives. Currently, the largest initiative is the National Center for Integrative Biomedical Informatics (NCIBI), established at U-M in 2005 with an $18.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
"The NCIBI award is one of only seven NIH-funded centers designed to create a nationwide computing infrastructure for the research community," says Brian Athey, the grant's principal investigator and director of the Michigan Center for Biological Information, now part of the CCMB. "It positions the U-M and its partners at the center of the NIH Roadmap's vision for a national networked computational infrastructure for biomedical computing. We focus on integrating biomedical information and developing computational technology to facilitate the work of many NIH-supported scientists nationally."
CCMB's infrastructure is organized into three primary parts: interdisciplinary research initiatives, a bioinformatics graduate program, and computing and data infrastructure. More than 30 U-M researchers are affiliated with the center already, and a new NIH-supported training grant for the 5-year-old bioinformatics graduate program is in place. The first doctoral students will graduate this spring with degrees in bioinformatics and computational biology.
"This is the era of the Internet and incredible computer capabilities," says H.V. Jagadish, professor of electrical engineering and computer science. "Scientists are generating massive amounts of new data related to these diseases. All these data must be organized, manipulated and analyzed. CCMB and NCIBI will help us bring the right mix of people and computational resources together to deal with these complex issues."