e-Science takes on some of the grand challenges in medical research

Oxford 22 January 2004A project to tackle the two diseases which together cause over 60 percent of deaths in the United Kingdom, heart disease and cancer, has been launched by Oxford University, which will work in collaboration with other leading universities, CCLRC, and IBM. The project will use e-Science, seen as the future of scientific research. Oxford also plans a GBP4 million building to house the development of e-Science.

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The Integrative Biology Project aims to build a giant computing Grid to support the modelling of complex biological systems, which will use advanced computer simulations to help understand and treat disease. The international, multi-institutional and cross-disciplinary project team includes world experts on the modelling of heart disease and cancer.

The intention is to use computing power to bring together knowledge at all the different levels of biological understanding, from gene function to physiology, in order to provide a coherent theory of biology which can be applied to disease. The Integrative Biology Project will both forward understanding of human disease and develop e-Science systems which will be useful for a wide range of research.

Professor Paul Jeffreys, Director of Oxford's e-Science Centre (OeSC), explained: "The Web has given us shared access to information on the Internet. The new technology for e-Science, a system called the Grid, will provide shared and secure access to distributed computing resources. The driving force behind e-Science is the need to handle massive amounts of data, and to tackle the complex computational problems presented by scientific research, including the modelling of biological systems. Modern scientists measure data in Petabytes (1 Petabyte = 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes), and their problems would take years to solve on an ordinary desktop computer."

Dr. David Gavaghan, project leader for the Integrative Biology Project, stated: "In the post-Genomic era, the challenge is to make full use of the vast wealth of experimental data now available. Full exploitation of this resource will require the development of a coherent underpinning theory of biology. Our aim in this project is to build the e-Science infrastructure required to support these endeavours, while focusing on heart disease and cancer."

The Integrative Biology project, and other Oxford e-Science projects, draw upon the resources and expertise within the Oxford e-Science Centre. The OeSC brings together academics, managers and technical staff from across the University and the IBM Hursley Laboratory, and creates an environment for promoting interdisciplinary collaboration. The importance of this development has been recognised by the University, and Professor Jeffreys announced the planning of a new GBP4 million building project to create an Interdisciplinary e-Science Centre which will enable e-Science, Supercomputing and doctoral training facilities to be housed within one location.

"e-Science is the future of scientific research", stated Professor Jeffreys. "It will take collaborative science to another level in the same way that the Internet has transformed information exchange. Using Grid technologies, scientists around the world will be able to work together, linking their resources to solve problems faster, and to extend the boundaries of scientific knowledge. The Integrative Biology Project is an exciting project with huge potential for human health, and it also ushers in a bright future of scientific collaborative research through e-Science."


Leslie Versweyveld

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