New Columbia University Center aims to advance next generation of genomics and proteomics research

New York 30 September 2005Addressing the critical need for new ways to analyse the enormous amounts of data being generated by genomics and proteomics, Columbia University is establishing a National Center for Biomedical Computing with an $18,5 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.


Columbia's new centre, the National Center for Multi-Scale Analysis of Genetic and Cellular Networks (MAGNet), is part of a network of seven centres created by the NIH to begin developing the computational and scientific infrastructure as well as software and data management tools needed to leverage the vast core data generated in part by the Human Genome Project.

This grant is part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. Of $235 million in grants for new and continuing Roadmap projects in 2005, Columbia has been awarded a combined total of nearly $50 million. Earlier this summer, Columbia received $25 million from the Protein Structure Initiative, another component of the NIH Roadmap. In June $9 million was awarded to James Rothman, Ph.D., director of the Judith P. Sulzberger, M.D. Columbia Genome Center and the Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Physiology, for his work with the Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network of the NIH Roadmap.

"These NIH Roadmap grants establish Columbia as one of the nation's major centres for computational biology and bioinformatics", stated David Hirsh, Ph.D., executive vice president for research at Columbia University. "Biomedical research is moving away from small experiments on individual genes or proteins, to the simultaneous analysis of tens of thousands of genes and proteins and entire systems inside cells."

"Computational biology, a new field of science, has the potential to revolutionize biology and the translation of biology into medicine", stated MAGNet Director Andrea Califano, Ph.D., professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University Medical Center. "The goal of the National Centers for Biomedical Computing is to make it easier for the wider scientific community to exploit the power of computers to address fundamental biological and biomedical challenges."

Among the seven centres, MAGNet has the unique goal of creating computational methods and tools to help solve one of the biggest challenges in biology: understanding how all the genes and proteins inside cells work together to implement specific biological processes.

"With approximately 20.000 genes in the human genome, there are trillions of possible interactions among genes and proteins within a cell. Exploring each one in the laboratory would take a very long time, even with current high throughput methods", stated Dr. Califano. "Instead, we plan to use computers and new methods of systems biology to predict which proteins are interacting with each other and with DNA, and how these interactions change in disease. Eventually, this will have a major impact on how we understand a variety of human diseases, including cancer."

MAGNet will be housed on the Columbia University Medical Center campus in the newly established Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (C2B²). C2B² researchers play a central role in MAGnet, as well as the Protein Structure Initiative of NIH Roadmap.

"I expect that a close synergy will evolve between the computational tools being developed in MAGnet and the analysis of the three-dimensional structure of the proteins that will be determined in the context of the Protein Structure Initiative, since C2B² researchers will be engaged in both activities", stated C2B² Director and MAGNet co-Director Barry Honig, Ph.D., Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at the Columbia University Medical Center. "We also hope that C2B² will enhance Columbia's leadership position in this important new scientific area."

C2B² is an interdepartmental centre which works towards catalyzing research between biology and the computational and physical sciences. It supports active research programmes in areas such as computational biophysics and structural biology, the modelling of regulatory, signaling and metabolic networks, pattern recognition, machine learning, and functional genomics. The Center also sponsors a seminar programme, as well as access to a range of software tools.

C2B² is located at Columbia University Medical Center, but faculty members are based on both the Medical Center and Morningside Campuses of Columbia University. Center faculty have appointments in a broad range of departments including Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Biomedical Informatics, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Science, Center for Computational Learning Systems, Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering.

C2B² and MAGNet capitalize on significant investments made by AMDeC, a not-for-profit consortium of thirty-five New York medical schools, academic health centres, and research institutions, to build bioinformatics resources for New York State researchers. AMDeC's Bioinformatics Core is housed within C2B². MAGnet also leverages the interactions with two other AMDeC initiatives, the Microarray Research Center and the New York Cancer Project.

Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King's College by royal charter of King George II of England. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States. Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care.

The medical centre trains future leaders in health care and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, nurses, dentists, and public health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the School of Dental & Oral Surgery, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centres and institutions. Columbia University Medical Center researchers are leading the discovery of novel therapies and advances to address a wide range of health conditions.

Leslie Versweyveld

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