Clinical and Research News
Scientists Try to Unravel Mysteries of Human Biology
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 20 page 28-28

With grants totaling more than $31 million over the next five years, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has established two new centers for excellence in research at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The two centers are set to explore key concepts directly applicable to neuroscience.

The Bauer Center for Genomics Research at Harvard received an initial grant of $3 million—the first installment of an anticipated total of $15 million—to explore topics related to "modular biology."

Lead investigator Andrew Murray, Ph.D., director of the center, will team with collaborators at Stanford University, Canada’s University of Calgary, the California Institute of Technology, and Israel’s Weizmann Institute for Science and Hebrew University in Jerusalem to study how collections of genes or proteins work together to carry out particular biological functions.

The team will test the hypothesis that such collections "behave as discrete functional modules," each of which performs a specific function essential to an organism’s survival and reproduction. The concept has been at the core of neuroscience research for many years as researchers struggle to decipher the living physiology behind behavior and personality traits.

At MIT, the Computational and Systems Biology Initiative, led by executive director Brigitta Tadmor, Ph.D., will focus on projects related to the emerging field of systems biology—a study of the interface between biology and engineering. Experts in computer science, basic biology, cancer research, biological engineering, environmental health, chemical engineering, and microsystems research will team up to explore "biological circuits" in human cells and tissues. By combining research methods in computer-based analysis and living-cell modeling, researchers hope to predict how biological circuits function under normal circumstances and how they go awry in disease states.

The function of the human brain is centered in the concept of biological circuits—the combination of individual groups of neurons that team up to perform specific tasks leading to behavior and cognition.

More information on these research projects is posted on the Web at www.nigms.nih.gov/funding/complex_systems.html.

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