NIH commits $80 million to biomedical computing centers

The National Institutes of Health has launched four new National Centers for Biomedical Computing to develop and implement the core of a universal computing infrastructure for biomedical research. The centers will create software programs that will enable the biomedical community to integrate, analyze, model, simulate and share data on human health and disease.

NIH awarded grants for the centers, announced last week, for a period of five years. The grants total more than $79.7 million, $15.7 million of which is for the first year. NIH is an agency of the Health and Human Services Department.

Researchers at the four centers will use data collected in both the lab and clinic to build and test new computational tools. Each center will distribute the developed technology and train users.

'The ultimate goal is for every person involved in the biomedical enterprise to have at their fingertips the data analysis tools, models, visualizations and interpretive materials to do their jobs without deficiencies in computing being a rate-limiting step in the process,' said Eric Jakobsson. Jakobsson is director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and leader of the biomedical computing centers.

The establishment of the four centers is the first step in the NIH Roadmap plan for bioinformatics and computational biology. The next steps include announcing funding opportunities for another group of centers, as well as for smaller projects to collaborate with the centers.

The NIH Roadmap aims to transform the nation's medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from bench to bedside. It provides a framework of the priorities the NIH must address in order to take advantage of its entire research portfolio and lays out a vision for a more efficient and productive system of medical research. The four centers are:

  • The Physics-Based Simulation of Biological Structures Center, which will develop a simulation toolkit with which scientists can model biological systems, from single atoms to entire organisms

  • The National Alliance for Medical Image Computing, which will develop software programs that integrate analysis and imaging data from a variety of sources, including MRI scans, to better understand a broad range of human diseases

  • The Computational Biology Center, which will join computational and mathematical approaches to study genes, cells, systems and the brain to create sets of maps featuring different biological data and serving as platforms for detailed, large-scale modeling projects to study biological processes and human diseases

  • The Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside Center, which will develop computational tools to help clinical researchers capitalize on the gains of genomic research to understand the basic biology of diseases such as diabetes, neurological disorders and high blood pressure.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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