New National Centers to Create Biomedical Computing Infrastructure

Emily Carlson, NIGMS

Four new National Centers for Biomedical Computing (NCBC) will develop and implement the core of a universal computing infrastructure that is urgently needed to speed progress in biomedical research. The centers will create innovative software programs and other tools that enable the biomedical community to integrate, analyze, model, simulate, and share data on human health and disease.

The centers, part of the National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research, were funded in September 2004. They are supported by 5-year grants projected to total more than $79.7 million ($15.7 million the first year).

Researchers involved in the four centers will use data collected in both the lab and clinic to build and test new computational tools. A key component of each center includes distributing the developed technology and training 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, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the NCBC principal leader.

The centers bring together researchers in computation, biology, and behavioral science to collaborate on a number of projects, including:

  • The Physics-Based Simulation of Biological Structures Center, led by Russ Altman, M.D., Ph.D., and Scott Delp, Ph.D., of Stanford University in California, which will develop a simulation toolkit that enables scientists worldwide to model and simulate biological systems from single atoms to entire organisms. More information is available at
  • The National Alliance for Medical Image Computing, led by Ron Kikinis, M.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, a multi-institutional effort to 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. Collaborating organizations include Dartmouth Medical School; General Electric Global Research; Georgia Institute of Technology; Harvard Medical School; Kitware, Inc.; Massachusetts General Hospital; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and University of Utah. For more information, visit
  • The Center for Computational Biology, led by Arthur Toga, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, which will join computational and mathematical approaches to study genes, cells, systems, and the whole brain. By combining this information, the center will create "computational atlases," sets of maps featuring different biological data and serving as platforms for detailed, large-scale modeling projects to study biological processes and human diseases. For more information, visit
  • The Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside Center, led by Boston-based researchers Isaac Kohane, M.D., Ph.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Children's Hospital, and John Glaser, Ph.D., Vice President and CIO at Partners HealthCare System, which will develop computational tools that enable clinical researchers to capitalize on the gains of the genomic revolution to understand the basic biology of diseases such as diabetes, neurological disorders, and high blood pressure. Collaborating organizations include Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Joslin Diabetes Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Partners Healthcare Systems, Inc. The center's web site is

"There are many marvelous modern technologies in biology that offer an extension of our senses, but computation is unique in that it offers us an extension of our minds," said Jakobsson. "By creating this infrastructure, we will be able to think more rapidly, more broadly, and at higher levels to accelerate discoveries in biomedicine."

The establishment of the four centers, he adds, is the first step in the National Institutes of Health 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.

For more information about the National Centers for Biomedical Computing or to speak with Eric Jakobsson, please contact Emily Carlson at (301) 496-7301 or More information about the NCBCs is available at Link to external Web site.

The NIH Roadmap is a series of far-reaching initiatives designed to transform the nation's medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from the bench to the bedside. It provides a framework of the priorities the NIH must address in order to optimize its entire research portfolio and lays out a vision for a more efficient and productive system of medical research. For more information about the NIH Roadmap, please visit the Web site at htt​p://