News Archive

SDSC Unveils the BioNOME Resource: A Worldwide System for Modeling the Complexities of Life

Published 10/16/1997

For further information, contact:

Denine Hagen, UC San Diego School of Engineering, 619-534-2920
Ann Redelfs, San Diego Supercomputer Center, 619-534-5032
Mindy Montgomery Patton, Procter & Gamble, 513-945-8039

San Diego, CA -- SDSC at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) announced that it will develop a powerful new resource that will allow scientists around the world to build better models of how animals and humans undertake the processes of life.

The resource is an important step in computer-aided biology, medicine, and drug development, according to Andrew McCulloch, a co-director of the program and professor of bioengineering at the UC San Diego School of Engineering. Just as engineers can now use computer models to design bridges and aircraft instead of building prototypes, biological models will be used to predict how humans or other organisms might respond to drugs, chemicals and other physical factors, he said.

As part of the new initiative --called the BioNOME Resource (for Biology Network of Modeling Efforts) --the center will set up a globally accessible Web site, to which scientists can send mathematical models they have created, models that describe how various living systems regulate themselves and interact with each other --from molecules and cells to tissues and organs.

Use of the Internet allows active links and accessibility, which encourages scientific interaction and makes this a living, collaborative project, McCulloch said.

Computer scientists at SDSC will develop software that organizes individual models to build integrated models of complex systems and functions. For example, models of the cardiac cell will be integrated with models of anatomy to simulate the electrical rhythms of the whole heart.

With a $900,000 donation from Procter & Gamble, the project's initial efforts will focus on models that describe how chemicals carry messages between and within cells, and models on how the heart functions. These models might then be linked or combined to provide new knowledge on such issues as the causes of heart failure.

McCulloch said computer modeling will also help make possible the development of new drugs with more carefully targeted modes of action and fewer side effects, as well as better medical devices and improved medical diagnostic procedures.

"Also, in the long term, the need for laboratory testing with animals could be reduced," McCulloch said. By capturing the data and findings from experiments, the computer models can help diminish the need for repetition. By providing a way to predict the effects of new compounds, unsuitable candidates can be ruled out before animal trials are used.

He added: "Biological science is generating vast amounts of experimental data at an unprecedented rate. We are faced with the challenge of organizing and integrating this information into analytical models that will drive the next round of biological advances."

These models describe what is occurring within the living system and how it will respond when external or internal factors are changed. If laboratory experiments confirm results predicted by the models, they help to validate the models. If the experiments don't agree, scientists must revise their theories and assumptions. The BioNOME Resource will fill the critical need of organizing this effort and providing access to integrated models, with the aid of state-of-the-art information technology. Through SDSC expertise, the initiative will take advantage of high-performance computers, data archives that can store hundreds of thousands of gigabytes, and the next generation of high-speed networks.

The resource will use a scientific editorial board to help direct the initiative and maintain the scientific quality of models submitted to the Web site, according to co-director Dr. Lynn F. Ten Eyck, a senior staff scientist at SDSC. The content will be reviewed and updated as research progresses. "Involvement of the scientific community in developing and maintaining standards is vital to the success of the project. This is not something that can be created by fiat," he said.

In the strategy to share and update information, the BioNOME Resource is similar to the international Human Genome Project, which has made rapid advances in recent years in identifying and mapping human genes.

For the Human Genome Project, a worldwide database for scientists working to identify new genes and their functions has been so valuable that scientific journals will not publish research on new genes until that information has been placed in the central computer.

"As the Human Genome Project accumulates even greater detail on human genetics, scientists will need tools to analyze and use this information," Ten Eyck said. "Computer modeling fills that need." McCulloch believes the timing is right for the San Diego project. Thirty-four biomedical scientists and engineers gathered in Russia in July to discuss the proposed Human Physiome Project, which would compile the various theoretical models of the major systems of the body.

Ten Eyck said: "Computer networking will be key to the future of integrative biomedical science. It might take one scientist a lifetime to develop and validate an important biological model. But there are a lot of lifetimes out there. There are more scientists alive and practicing the craft today than there have been in all of recorded human history. If we can find a way to bring this information together in a meaningful way, there is a potential to revolutionize biomedical science."