University of Michigan researchers receive $18,7-million NIH grant to create a National Center for Integrative Biomedical Informatics

Ann Arbor 29 September 2005As researchers in the biological sciences increasing rely on computers to obtain relevant knowledge from the torrent of biomedical data being generated, the University of Michigan Medical School has received an $18,7-million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to begin imposing order on the myriad sources of biologic data, rendering them more integrated and more readily comprehended.


The five-year grant will fund a new National Center for Integrative Biomedical Informatics (NCIBI), with the goal of integrating genomic and molecular biology information into disease or biological models. One of seven National Centers for Biomedical Computing funded by the NIH - and the only one not in California or the Northeast - the NCIBI is expected to be operational for at least 10 years.

"The NCIBI award positions the University of Michigan and its partners at the centre of the NIH Roadmap's vision for a national networked computational infrastructure for biomedical computing", stated Brian D. Athey, Ph.D., the grant's principal investigator, and director, Michigan Center for Biological Information, and associate professor, Department of Psychiatry. "It is an honour for the NCIBI to be entrusted by the NIH with the opportunity to provide such great potential to help accelerate biomedical research discoveries and potential treatments."

The NCIBI will develop a framework of conceptual models, computational infrastructure and integrated knowledge repository that modern scientists need in order to make effective use of the wealth of data flowing from molecular biology and translational research. Through research and development that focuses on biomedical information integration, the NCIBI will help maximize the impact of computational technology developed in the Center and facilitate the work of many NIH-supported scientists nationally.

Ultimately, the goal of the NCIBI is to improve people's health. By examining large-scale molecular information about a disease, scientists make discoveries about basic disease mechanisms that can help in designing further laboratory and clinical studies. These discoveries can advance disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment in a number of ways. For instance, discovering particular genes or gene variants that are involved in a disease can lead to tests to identify people at higher risk for developing a disease, or the discovery of new drug treatments to stop the disease process. The NCIBI will contribute more rapidly to such outcomes through its large-scale integration and pre-computed data analysis of genomic and molecular biology information.

"The National Centers for Biomedical Computing initiative - part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research - is a major commitment by NIH to provide powerful computational tools for the biomedical community", stated Dr. John Whitmarsh, project leader for the National Centers for Biomedical Computing initiative. "The National Center for Integrative Biomedical Informatics is one of three centres funded in 2005 that, together with four centres funded last year, will network to create user-friendly software and computational infrastructure to advance biomedical and clinical research. Under the direction of Dr. Athey, the University of Michigan Center has assembled an interdisciplinary team focused on the critical need for integrating diverse biological and medical data sets."

"This grant recognizes the high level of expertise in computational biology and bioinformatics at the University of Michigan. It will help build more research collaborations among the University of Michigan schools and colleges", stated Raymond Ruddon, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean of Research and Graduate Studies, and professor, Department of Pharmacology.

The $18,7-million grant is part of a co-operative agreement between the University of Michigan and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which has programmatic oversight of the National Centers for Biomedical Computing, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Library of Medicine.

"At Michigan and with collaborators around the country, we are developing experimental, computational, and clinical tools to make progress toward predictive, personalized, and preventive (P3) health care for better patient outcomes and a more cost-effective health care system", stated Gilbert Omenn, M.D., Ph.D., professor of internal medicine, human genetics, and public health.

The NCIBI will start work on four driving biological problems: prostate cancer, bipolar depression, diabetes type I and diabetes type II. Researchers need new tools to understand the genetic, metabolic and clinical heterogeneity of these diseases. In order to mine and assimilate the wide range of available data and text information, investigators need sophisticated, yet user-friendly, computational means to generate insightful models of disease processes. NCIBI will create, test and deploy these tools for use by NIH researchers nationwide.

The interdisciplinary, collaborative team assembled at the NCIBI has remarkable breadth and depth of talent to address the challenges of data integration from molecular biology and clinical diseases. Spanning the University of Michigan Medical School, College of Engineering, and School of Information as well as seven internationally known collaborating organisations, the NCIBI team members represent a rich diversity of U-M and national leaders in the areas of bioinformatics, systems biology, computational architecture, database technology, ontologies and natural language processing, human computer interfaces, machine learning, computational anatomy, image analysis, genetics, medicine, and public health.

As emphasized by David States, M.D., Ph.D., professor of bioinformatics and human genetics, and by H.V. Jagadish, Ph.D., professor of electrical engineering and computer science, "Another interdisciplinary strength will be linkage with the University of Michigan and other research libraries with outstanding digital capabilities." Drs. Athey, Jagadish, Omenn, and States are NCIBI senior scientific directors. A. Christyne Bliton is the NCIBI programme manager.

The State of Michigan-funded Michigan Center for Biological Information, part of the Michigan Technology Tri-Corridor Core Technology Alliance (CTA), has provided essential support for the research and development work necessary to launch the National Center. The CTA is a publicly-funded collaborative network of advanced technology facilities in genomics, proteomics, protein structure, and informatics serving Michigan researchers affiliated with universities, private research institutes, and biotechnology or pharmaceutical firms, as well as clients outside the State of Michigan. MCBI's goals are to help advance biological research and technology and create jobs in research and industry in Michigan through promotion of bioinformatics.

Leslie Versweyveld

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