New Centers Add Momentum to Systems Biology


September 25, 2007

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health, has funded three new National Centers for Systems Biology to advance the study of the complex interactions occurring inside biological systems and to train others in this emerging field. The national effort, which now includes 10 systems biology centers, will broaden and deepen our understanding of how different factors contribute to the functioning of cells, tissues, and even entire organisms.

The centers are led by Philip Benfey, Ph.D, a biologist at Duke University; Ravi Iyengar, Ph.D., a pharmacologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and Arthur Lander, M.D., Ph.D., a developmental biologist at the University of California, Irvine.

Benfey’s Duke Center for Systems Biology, slated to receive about $14.5 million over 5 years, joins biologists and theorists to address the orchestrated processes of the cell cycle, development and differentiation, and population variation in model organisms. The findings could substantially boost our understanding of basic biology and human diseases. Faculty affiliated with the center will integrate systems biology themes into existing graduate education programs, teach several new undergraduate systems biology courses, and administer a certificate program designed for biology, mathematics, and computer science majors.

Iyengar’s New York Center for Systems Biology, expected to receive more than $13 million over 5 years, brings together researchers and educators from six institutions for the systems-level study of medicine and therapeutics. Specifically, the team will integrate theoretical and experimental approaches to understand how drugs—both therapeutic and abused—affect the organization and physiology of cells, tissues, and organs. The researchers will focus on interactions occurring in the heart and brain. The center will host workshops for undergraduate educators on integrating systems and mathematical approaches into college biology courses, and it plans to introduce hands-on summer research programs for students. 

Lander’s Center for Complex Biological Systems, estimated to receive about $14.4 million over 5 years, assembles 20 UC-Irvine faculty members to focus on how biological systems in model organisms process spatial information during development, intracellular signaling, and cell proliferation. Other efforts include the development of computational and optical tools needed for measuring and modeling spatially dynamic systems and fostering the next generation of systems biologists through undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral training. The center’s advances could shed light on human development, birth defects, stem cells, cancer, and basic physiology and, more broadly, identify common principles in how different biological systems maneuver in a spatial world.

To learn more about the National Centers for Systems Biology, visit or contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301 or

NIGMS (, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports basic biomedical research that is the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.