NIH to start biomedical computational centers in fall

In September, the National Institutes of Health will award the first set of grants to establish biomedical computational centers, said Eric Jakobsson, director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the National Institutes of Health.

The centers are part of the NIH's Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative. Launched in 2000, this program aims to facilitate greater use of information technology in biology and medical research (see GCN story).

The biomedical computational centers will provide space for developers to build more software tools for computational biology. In particular, the agency is seeking more tools that can be used on, or accessed by, desktop computers.

This year's grants will be the first in a series, Jakobsson said. In 2005, NIH will award contracts to establish a second set of centers. The funding announcement will be reissued in the fall.

Jakobsson expects the agency to fund the centers at a rate of about $25 million to $30 million a year over the course of the next 10 years. Each individual center should not cost more than $3 million a year to run, according to the funding announcement.

A number of university-led consortiums have submitted proposals in response to the first funding announcement, issued by the agency in September 2003.

Jakobsson spoke recently at a meeting of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee. Computational biology falls into three categories, Jakobsson said. They are:

  • Computational physical biochemistry: using computers to apply physics, mathematics and chemistry to better understand biological molecules

  • Sequence-based informatics: using computers to find and analyze patterns in biological data

  • Complex systems: using computers to understand the dynamics of complex systems.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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