NIGMS Funds Center for Quantitative Biology

Broad Collaboration, Advanced Computing Join in Study of Biocomplexity

To probe the complexities of living systems, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has established its fifth Center of Excellence in Complex Biomedical Systems Research. The new center, headed by David Botstein, Ph.D., at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., will explore how biological molecules interact with each other and their environment to create dynamic systems.

NIGMS will award $3 million to the center this year and expects the project to total $14.8 million over 5 years.

Central to the effort is the integration of multidisciplinary research and teaching. In addition to bringing together 40 scientists from physical, computational and biological science fields, the center will establish a new undergraduate and graduate curriculum at Princeton that focuses on quantitative biology and collaborative research. 

“The most challenging problems in biology are best tackled by combining the expertise of researchers from diverse backgrounds,” said Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., NIH director.  “Through its multidisciplinary collaboration and curriculum, this center will not only yield new insights about complex biological processes, it will also train the research leaders of tomorrow.”

Called the Center for Quantitative Biology, the effort will focus on three key biological questions: how body patterns are established during an organism's early development, how cells control their internal functions and communicate with each other, and how viruses interact with host cells. The researchers will use state-of-the-art microscopes and imaging tools to examine molecules in living cells and tissues. They will also create gene chips to study the activities of genes from viruses, bacteria, yeast, mice, rats and humans. 

A key feature of the project is the use of advanced computational methods to model complex biological systems based on large quantities of experimental data, a systems biology approach. To help spur further biomedical discoveries, the center will make all its data and analysis tools freely available to the scientific community.

The goals and approaches of the center fit squarely with the NIGMS mission, according to Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., NIGMS director. 

“The Princeton center advances NIGMS efforts to move into new areas of science, foster multidisciplinary collaboration, and enhance research training. It also joins ongoing NIGMS initiatives to recruit quantitative scientists and harness computer modeling approaches for biological research. By bringing together computational and experimental scientists, the center promises to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and serve as a model for an important new way of doing biomedical research and education,” said Berg.

The Princeton center joins other Centers of Excellence in Complex Biomedical Systems Research at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories, Case Western Reserve University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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

Additional information about NIGMS’ efforts in supporting complex biomedical systems research can be found on the Complex Biological Systems Initiatives page on the Institute’s Web site ( /Initiatives/SysBio/).