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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 12, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 25
Digital grid to link heart researchers

Raimond Winslow
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Phil Sneiderman

With $8.5 million in federal support, leading researchers at three universities are creating an ambitious digital network that will allow cardiovascular researchers worldwide to easily exchange data and expertise on heart-related illnesses. The Johns Hopkins-based project, called the Cardiovascular Research Grid, is expected to be a boon to the large community of researchers who will use these digital tools to find new ways to prevent, detect and treat life-threatening cardiac ailments.

The Cardiovascular Research Grid will be headquartered in the 79,000-square-foot Computational Science and Engineering Building, now under construction on the Homewood campus. The building is expected to open this summer.

To launch this network, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has approved a four-year grant that began March 1. The digital project will be directed by the Institute for Computational Medicine at Johns Hopkins, in collaboration with the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Ohio State University College of Medicine and the Center for Research in Biological Systems at the University of California, San Diego.

The project teams will develop open, grid-based software tools that will enable other research groups to become "nodes" in the new grid. Once connected to the grid, researchers will be able to access and share experimental data, data analysis tools and computational models relating to heart function in healthy people and those with cardiac disease to protect privacy, none of the heart data will carry information identifying patients from whom it was obtained.

"There had never been a simple and direct way for cardiovascular researchers to share, analyze and model this important data," said Raimond Winslow, director of the Institute for Computational Medicine at Johns Hopkins and principal investigator in the project. "Now, there will be."

Winslow, who also is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, added, "This is the direction in which biomedical research is heading in the 21st century. In the past, biomedical research was mainly done in individual labs. The Cardiovascular Research Grid will enable us to assemble large, geographically distributed research teams and bring together the leading experts in the world to focus on a common problem, regardless of their location. This grid will enable experimentalists to share their data with computational scientists, who will analyze and model the data. The computational scientists will then share their results with their experimental colleagues, who use it to refine their experiments. In this fashion, we believe the creation of the Cardiovascular Research Grid will accelerate the discovery of new approaches for treating heart disease."

In deciding to fund the new grid, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recognized the important contribution that bioinformatics can now make in developing a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of heart disease and in the development of new therapeutic approaches.

During the first year of funding, the organizers of the new grid plan will deploy the initial infrastructure and software that will enable researchers to begin sharing and analyzing information. To accomplish this, Joel Saltz, chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Ohio State, and his team will develop the software infrastructure that ties together resources. "The Cardiovascular Research Grid will allow experts from different disciplines to combine their insights and to coordinate their efforts," said Saltz, who holds Ohio State's Davis Endowed Chair of Cancer. "The ability to bring together many types of biomedical information will have a tremendous impact on the pace of progress in cardiovascular research."

The Johns Hopkins team will focus on development of standardized vocabularies for describing biomedical data, models and data analysis applications. In addition to Winslow, the team will include faculty members Michael I. Miller and Tilak Ratnanather, both of the Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Donald Geman, Daniel Naiman and Laurent Younes, all of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics.

Mark Ellisman, director of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging at the University of California, San Diego, and his team will be responsible for developing effective and intuitive ways for users to interact with the Cardiovascular Research Grid.

"Developing and deploying cyberinfrastructure to capitalize on emerging technologies to promote better collaboration and accelerate research is a core focus of our center's efforts," said Ellisman, who also is director of UCSD's Center for Research in Biological Systems. "With a track record of developing scalable cyberinfrastructure to foster interdisciplinary investigations among teams of researchers in microscopy, neuroimaging and the environmental health sciences, CRBS is eager to collaborate with the Johns Hopkins team on developing the Cardiovascular Research Grid. We're looking forward to implementing an infrastructure that will effectively pool the diverse expertise, applications and instrumentation of the cardiovascular research community into a unified knowledge base, one that will enable researchers to tackle cardiac disease studies of greater scope and complexity."


Related Web sites

Institute for Computational Medicine at Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute


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