Digital Biology Week: Building a national infrastructure for biomedical computing

October 29, 2003

BETHESDA, Md. -- How can scientists turn the vast amounts of data generated by the Human Genome Project into promising new medical treatments tailored to the individual? Will it ever be possible to develop computer simulations that accurately model the complex inner workings of the human brain and other vital organs? What are the scientific and technical roadblocks that researchers will need to overcome in order to achieve such goals?

These are just some of the key questions that top experts in biology, medicine, computer science, and other fields will be exploring during "Digital Biology Week," November 3 to 7, in Bethesda, Md. Leading biomedical and computational scientists will also lay the groundwork for building a national network of researchers whose common goal will be to harness the power of computers to solve today's most challenging problems in human health and disease.

The week kicks off on Monday, November 3, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a workshop for scientists interested in applying for new federal funding establishing the first phase of this network, the NIH National Centers for Biomedical Computing (NCBC). Plans for the centers were unveiled last month as part of the new NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a far-reaching set of initiatives designed to speed the movement of research discoveries from the bench to the bedside.

Culminating the week is a major symposium, sponsored by the NIH Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative (BISTI), titled "Digital Biology: the Emerging Paradigm," on Thursday and Friday, November 6 and 7. The symposium will offer a broad look at contemporary issues arising from the convergence of biomedical and computational research, according to the symposium's co-chairs, Richard Morris, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Karen Skinner, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The keynote speakers are Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, D.Phil., a pioneer in genetics and molecular biology and distinguished professor at the Salk Institute, and Nathan Myhrvold, Ph.D., Microsoft's former chief technology officer and now managing director of the entrepreneurial firm Intellectual Ventures.

In conjunction with the NIH, two other federal agencies--the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF)--are holding separate "satellite" events in Bethesda on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 4 and 5. The NIST meeting will focus on identifying opportunities for developing standards in information science to facilitate biomedical research. The NSF meeting will investigate information processing in biological organisms in the context of the emerging field of systems biology.

"'Digital Biology Week' marks the beginning of an ambitious, decade-long effort among government agencies, universities and industries to build a national infrastructure for biomedical computing," said Eric Jakobsson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB), part of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the NIH. Jakobsson is also chair of the NIH Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative Consortium.

"Through these and future meetings, and through our granting programs, our intention is to foster the development of a national network of collaboration in which 'big science,' as exemplified by the new biocomputing centers, will work hand-in-hand with 'small science,' as exemplified by individual scientists, for the advancement of all science," Jakobsson said.

NIGMS is one of the 27 components of the National Institutes of Health, the premier federal agency for biomedical research. Its mission is to support basic biomedical research that lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Additional information about "Digital Biology Week" can be found at the following links:

For more details about "Digital Biology Week" and the NIH National Centers for Biomedical Computing, or to speak with CBCB director Eric Jakobsson, Ph.D., and BISTI Symposium co-chairs Richard Morris, Ph.D., and Karen Skinner, Ph.D., contact Dan Hogan in the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301. To register for the BISTI Symposium as a member of the media, contact Saundra Bromberg of Capital Consulting Corporation at 301-468-6004, ext. 406.

NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences

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