NIH awards $ 10.8 million to Brown to expand data-driven research to fight human disease

PROVIDENCE, RI [Brown University] – Five years after launching an $ 11.5 million federal grant to Brown University’s COBRE Center for Computational Biology of Human Disease, the National Institutes of Health has provided $ 10.8 million in new funding to Brown to build on the centre’s early successes.

The center – a federal center of excellence in biomedical research funded by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences – uses sophisticated computer analyzes to advance research aimed at understanding and combating human disease.

Director David Rand, professor of biology at Brown, said the renewal funds will improve the centre’s research infrastructure, enable enhanced collaboration between scientists working with computational and bioinformatics tools, and support four new research projects. Rand said there is a “computer revolution” underway in the biomedical sciences, as researchers need computer analyzes to help them make sense of the massive amounts of data available.

“Even those who work in wet labs or clinics that don’t use computers in their day-to-day work will at some point need help analyzing complex data sets,” he said.

Rand compared the current moment to the revolution in molecular biology that has changed science since the 1970s, when DNA cloning and sequencing became standard tools used by researchers in various fields. Computer analysis today brings groups together in the same way, he said. For example, people working in the fields of engineering, computer science, basic biology and medicine will face situations where they will have to convert datasets into information that can help them find solutions and to answer questions. Although their research projects are very distinct, he said, the data analysis work shares common themes.

“In addition to helping researchers with their individual projects, we see the Center for Computational Biology of Human Disease as a way to raise the level of computational capacity for researchers in the general community,” Rand said.

To provide this service to COBRE’s project managers and researchers across Brown, the center houses a Computational Biology Core – a group of four scientists, data analysts and software engineers who support data-intensive research. With the renewal grant, the centre’s leadership will strive to establish lasting support for the group through continued funding from its scientists and support to ensure that four members are at the doctoral level (the previous budget included support for two doctorates and two scientists at master’s level).

“Everyone has big data sets and needs to convert it into useful information, and we aim to help people achieve that,” Rand said. “The center brings together laboratory and clinical researchers with exceptionally skilled and creative data scientists to turn data into information. “

The grant funds will also support the research of junior faculty researchers and help them secure additional, longer-term funding for their work – allowing them, Rand said, to build on the findings and continue their research. while freeing up funds from the center to initiate new innovative projects. Along with NIH’s initial $ 11.5 million in the center’s first phase, faculty projects at the Center for Computational Biology of Human Disease generated an additional $ 17.9 million in grants in research areas such as human genomics, immunology and infectious diseases, the microbiome and machine learning. approaches to complex genetics.

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