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Improved cancer treatments aim of new $8.9M biology research institute


Calgary, AB – The University of Calgary is establishing a new Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics. The institute will be led by Dr Stuart Kauffman, a specialist in genetic theories, who moved to Alberta to work on research that could offer new ways to treat cancer.

Originally a medical doctor, Dr Kauffman’s primary work has been as a theoretical biologist studying the origin of life and molecular organization. He has added a new dimension to Darwin’s theory of evolution and has founding patents in chemistry for drug discovery. He is now using powerful computing resources to test some of his theories on the systems that regulate cell growth, division and differentiation. Understanding these systems may lead to the ability to control them, which could mean new cancer treatments using cell-based approaches rather than traditional treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

“We plan to set up a world-class research program that will marry theory and experiment in the exploding area of systems biology,” says Dr Kauffman, who is the new iCORE Chair in Biocomplexity and Informatics, housed at the University of Calgary. “The opportunity here is unparalleled. We need to think big, and we have found the necessary support here. There is a wonderful collaborative environment, and the potential to mix theory and experiment is very good.”

Dr Kauffman has received an iCORE chair and professor establishment grant of $850,000 per year for five years, plus a $300,000 startup grant, for a total of $4.6 million. iCORE’s investment represents roughly 50% of the total budget. The University of Calgary is contributing roughly $250,000 per year for a total of $1.4 million in cash, and $415,000 in kind over the five-year research program. The University of Alberta is also contributing $415,000 in kind. Additional support over the initial five-year period is being sought from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada ($575,000), the Canada Foundation for Innovation ($700,000), the provincial government ($335,000), and industry ($150,000 and $360,000 in kind).

The institute will conduct intense, coordinated, interdisciplinary research by developing theories and companion experiments in the fields of genetic and cell regulatory networks. In doing so, the full potentials of understanding such networks can be realized for the benefit of science and human health. Most importantly, the research program will focus on cancer cell differentiation, with enormous potential application in human health.

The institute will draw together top-level expertise in the ensemble approach, machine learning, small genetic networks studies, bioinformatics, data mining, complexity, computational biology, genomics, signal processing mathematical statistics, gene expression, cellular mechanics, and tissue engineering among cell and molecular biologists, computer scientists, signal processing experts, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, and theoretical biologists to conduct new interdisciplinary research aimed at revealing and integrating much of the extent and nature of genetic regulatory networks, generating useful software and knowledge products, and opening up new avenues for essential future research.

The institute’s work is intended to further the integration and development of biocomplexity and informatics. The University of Calgary says it will be the hub of an outstanding international group of researchers and scholars working to solve problems comprising the central tasks of understanding the integrated behavior of genetic regulatory networks. The institute is expected to produce a remarkable body of theoretical work, a body of groundbreaking experimental work, software for text and other data mining, and the training of postdoctoral fellows and graduate students in this important emerging interdisciplinary field.