The Institute for
Computational Medicine, launched last week at Johns
Hopkins, will address important health problems by using
powerful information management and computing technologies
to produce a better understanding of the origins of human
disease. Institute researchers plan to use this approach to
identify disease in its earliest stage and to look for new
ways to treat illnesses.
The ICM is believed to be the first and certainly the
largest and most ambitious research center of its kind. Its
emphasis is on real-world health applications. "Our mission
is to develop a new field that we call computational
medicine," said Raimond L. Winslow, director of the
institute. "We want to immediately tackle the challenges of
how we can use advanced computational methods to analyze
and model disease mechanisms. We want to be able to
understand, quantitatively, how diseases progress. We want
to be able to predict who is at risk of developing a
disease and how to treat it more effectively."
Winslow is a professor of
engineering in the Whiting School and
a pioneer in the use of computer modeling techniques to
help understand heart functioning. The institute's
co-director will be Aravinda Chakravarti, Henry J. Knott
Professor in the
School of Medicine and director of the school's
Institute of Genetic Medicine.
The Institute for Computational Medicine is
administered by the Whiting School of Engineering but will
involve a close collaboration with the researchers in the
School of Medicine.
"The formation of the ICM is a natural expansion of
the long-standing and highly effective collaboration
between Johns Hopkins' schools of Engineering and
Medicine," said Nicholas P. Jones, dean of Engineering.
"Over the course of the next decade, we believe that
engineering and medicine will become even more
interconnected and collaborative, and the ICM will be at
the forefront of the exciting innovations we envision."
At present, the institute is operating in existing
university space. Its permanent home will be in the
Computational Sciences and Engineering Building now under
construction on the Homewood campus. The building is
expected to open in spring 2007, with up to 11,000 net
square feet of space reserved for the institute. This will
include space for faculty and staff offices, as well as
teaching areas. In place of traditional wet labs, the
institute will operate high-performance computing and
information storage labs.
One of the institute's research thrusts is biological
systems modeling. This involves the use of computer models
to shed light on the molecular basis of human disease.
Computer models allow researchers to conduct experiments
and test therapies mathematically, in order to better guide
experimentation. Computer models can also allow researchers
to make numerous small variations and test large numbers of
potential treatments to see which is most effective. The
results can be passed along to other researchers who may
apply them to living subjects.
"We think this approach can accelerate the discovery
of new therapies by guiding the experimental research,"
Winslow said. "We can help the experimentalists understand
their data and target their tests more precisely. We may be
able to identify a biological sequence of events that leads
to a health problem, and thus suggest more effective
therapeutics to treat these problems."
A second research thrust at the institute is
computational anatomy. In this area, researchers use
computers and mathematical algorithms to analyze the
structure of healthy and diseased segments of the body.
These researchers then compare images of portions of the
brain or the heart, for example, to see if structural
changes coincide with occurrences of Alzheimer's or heart
disease. If such changes can be identified, they may lead
to early diagnosis of disease and earlier treatment.
The institute's third research thrust is
bioinformatics. Scientists in this field are developing new
ways to mathematically represent and manage biomedical data
as well as new approaches for discovering features of these
data that are predictive of disease risk.
Initially, about 20 faculty members are affiliated
with the institute. It is expected to add six more faculty
members over the next several years, with appointments in
various School of Engineering departments. "We want these
people to have very strong mathematical and computer
science skills, in keeping with the mission of the
institute," Winslow said. "But we will also be recruiting
talented collaborators in the School of Medicine."
Startup funding for the institute includes grants from
the National Institutes of Health, the D. W. Reynolds
Foundation and the Falk Medical Trust, totaling more than
$8 million over the next five years. Researchers have begun
applying for additional grants under the auspices of the
For more on the Institute for Computational Medicine,