Dr. Paul Brazhnik

About Dr. Paul Brazhnik

Paul is responsible for research grants in computational biology, modeling and bioinformatics. He also oversees several NIGMS systems biology centers and directs the Joint DMS/NIGMS Initiative to Support Research at the Interface of the Biological and Mathematical Sciences. More

Meeting to Highlight NIGMS-Funded Systems Biology Program

National Centers for Systems Biology Portal - Find updates, news stories, training opportunities and moreFor 10 years, our National Centers for Systems Biology (NCSB) program has enabled pioneering research, research training, education and outreach programs focused on systems-level inquiries of biomedical phenomena within the NIGMS mission.

Currently, the program funds 15 centers that are focused on molecular and cellular biology, genetics, pharmacology and physiology. The centers have advanced research in these scientific areas and have significantly contributed to the development of systems biology courses, graduate programs and departments at institutions across the nation, supporting and further building research teams that integrate expertise across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

To mark the program’s anniversary, we are hosting a special annual centers meeting to inform the broader scientific community about the status and achievements of the program. In addition to presentations highlighting each center’s activities, the agenda includes a plenary talk by Arthur Lander of the University of California, Irvine, titled “Lighting the Way: Ten Years of National Centers for Systems Biology,” and presentations by young scientists whose careers have been impacted by the program.

The meeting will be held on July 11-12 in the Natcher Conference Center on the NIH campus. You can now register to attend and see who is participating.

Here are a few examples of how the research being conducted by the NIGMS-funded systems biology centers is advancing our knowledge in a broad range of scientific areas:

  • The Virtual Physiological Rat Project Exit icon at the Medical College of Wisconsin used data analysis and computational modeling to show that arterial stiffening alone best explains the development of hypertension in aging individuals; the methodology can serve as a model for studying the basis of other diseases.
  • The Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology Exit icon at the University of California, San Francisco, has created minimal circuits that can reprogram the self-organization of structures within the cell, offering a potential method for engineering cells to carry out specific therapeutic functions.
  • Using dynamical modeling, the San Diego Center for Systems Biology Exit icon at the University of California, San Diego, has helped explain how quantitative differences in epigenetic steady states may result in qualitatively different cell-type-specific control of signaling.
  • The Center for Complex Biological Systems Exit icon at the University of California, Irvine, has provided novel insights into the strategies underlying robust pattern formation in biological systems.
  • The Center for Modular Biology Exit icon at Harvard University has explored whether networks of interacting components, or modules, are pervasive building blocks in biological systems, and how the existence of these building blocks restrains or enhances the generation of diversity.
  • The Center for Systems Biology Exit icon at the Institute for Systems Biology is seeking out how dynamic molecular networks of cells process inputs from their environment to mount appropriate responses, such as metabolic, morphological and phenotypic changes.
  • The Center for Genome Dynamics Exit icon at the Jackson Laboratory has developed and commercialized two highly sought-after genotyping platforms that are useful in mouse research.

For more highlights, including a recent award from Science magazine for an online computational biology course Exit icon from the Center for Genome Dynamics, see the NCSB news page. An array of databases, software and other resources, including training materials, developed by the centers are available for use through the NCSB portal Exit icon.

Funding Opportunity for Joint NSF/NIGMS Biological and Mathematical Sciences Program

NIGMS recently announced plans to continue participating in the Joint DMS/NIGMS Initiative to Support Research at the Interface of the Biological and Mathematical Sciences. The NSF solicitation Exit icon includes more information about applying.

This joint NSF/NIGMS program started in 2002 to address the pressing need to bring mathematicians into the core of biological research and to encourage broader use of innovative mathematics in understanding life processes. Since then, NIGMS has funded 90 projects involving more than 150 investigators. This year’s awards included nine grants to support mathematics-driven research in biomolecular interactions, signaling and regulatory pathway dynamics, cell proliferation and stress response and branched morphogenesis.

Applications for the program are accepted once a year. The 2010 deadline is October 1. A joint NSF/NIGMS panel reviews the applications, and a group of NSF and NIGMS program directors selects ones for funding. The typical funding level for a 4-year grant is between $1.2 million and $1.6 million (total costs for all years).

In April of this year, NSF and NIGMS sponsored the Frontiers in Mathematical Biology meeting, which brought together scientists supported by the program. See my May 5 post for more about this meeting.

Finding Synergy Between Math and Biology

Frontiers in Mathematical Biology:<br /><br />
NSF-NIH PIs Meeting 2010 posterLast week, I attended the PI’s meeting for the Joint DMS/NIGMS Initiative to Support Research in the Area of Mathematical Biology Exit icon, a program managed by us and NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences. A key goal of the program is to bring mathematicians and new mathematical approaches into the core of biological and biomedical research.

I was a grantee of this program before I came to NIGMS, so it was interesting to see how the program has evolved and to meet other scientists finding synergy between math and biology.

During the two-day meeting Exit icon, researchers and students supported by the program shared their experiences, exchanged ideas and explored new collaborations in the field of mathematical biology. Their oral and poster presentations covered a spectrum of topics, from protein and RNA structure prediction to modeling biological complexity and statistical inference. The meeting also featured six brainstorming breakout sessions that helped the program officials identify future opportunities and challenges for the field.

Here are few ideas that caught my attention:

  • Several speakers emphasized that the quest for stimulating the innovative use of mathematics should not undermine the application of well established mathematical approaches in biology.
  • Dynamical systems theory, which describes how complex networks change over time, suggests that the architecture underlying a biological network’s control system may have been evolutionary selected to support the delicate balance between robustness and efficiency.
  • Methods for studying the spread of infectious diseases could also be used to study the spread of emotional states (depression, happiness, etc.).

If you are interested in mathematical biology, visit the meeting Web site—it will be updated soon with the meeting abstracts, slides and photos. If you would like to apply for funding for mathematical biology research, look for an announcement about the program’s next solicitation on the Feedback Loop around the end of July.