The University of New Mexico School of Medicine and Cancer Center has received a three-year, $1.12 million planning grant to become one of five major National Centers of Excellence in Complex Biomedical Systems Research. Janet M. Oliver, Regents' Professor of Pathology and associate director for research in the UNM Cancer Research and Treatment Center, leads the new Center.

The goal of the five national centers is to encourage computational approaches that will deepen understanding of biological processes.

After decades of research, scientists have amassed a wealth of data on the characteristics and functions of individual biological molecules. The focus now is on investigating how these molecules interact. Central to this effort is modeling and predicting the behavior of complex biological systems, which draws on the expertise and approaches of quantitative scientists - including mathematicians, statisticians, physicists, computer scientists and engineers - as well as those of biologists.

As one of the five national centers, the UNM/Sandia National Laboratory Center for the Spatiotemporal Modeling of Cell Signaling Networks has been awarded to a consortium of UNM faculty and Sandia National Laboratory scientists to integrate computational modeling into biomedical research projects focused on understanding the behavior of complex cell signaling networks.

"New Mexico's scientists are ideally positioned to provide the mathematical and computational tools, theory and technologies needed to understand the organization, interactions and dynamic behaviors of complex molecular networks," said Oliver.

"Because UNM occupies a single campus, it is easy for the Health Sciences Center's biomedical scientists to form partnerships with mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and engineers on main campus. There is also a long history of research partnership between UNM's biomedical and computational scientists and scientists at the Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories," said Oliver. She added that partnerships are also maturing with scientists at the Santa Fe Institute and the National Center for Genome Research.

The new center is part of a larger cross campus effort at UNM effort to expand resources for biocomputing and bioinformatics research, to recruit new UNM faculty capable of developing computationally-based biomedical research programs, and to train UNM students to conduct interdisciplinary research in complex biological systems. The center will place high demands on its biologists and computational scientists and will provide exceptional opportunities for young researchers to build exciting and productive careers, said Oliver.

Center co-leaders are Dr. Stephanie Forrest, professor of Computer Sciences in the UNM College of Engineering and until recently director of research at the Santa Fe Institute, Dr. Stanly Steinberg, professor of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNM College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Grant Heffelfinger, deputy director of the Materials and Process Sciences Center at Sandia National Laboratory. Other participants will include the Cell Signaling Team, led by Dr. Byron Goldstein in the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos National laboratory, and Dr. Holly Buchanan's bioinformatics team in the UNM HSC Library and Informatics Center.

The Center's scientific goals are aligned with the Signal Transduction, Adhesion and Trafficking (STAT) program in the Cancer Center, led by Drs. Bridget Wilson, associate professor of Pathology and Eric Prossnitz, associate professor of Cell Biology and Physiology. STAT program research focuses on defining the molecular environment of normal and diseased human cells and identifying new strategies for the treatment and prevention of cancer and other diseases.

The other institutions selected as National Centers of Excellence are the University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island; Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; Boston University; and the University of California, Irvine.
Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322