Giant grid to take on cancer research

January 30, 2004

Oxford University and IBM have launched a joint initiative to tackle heart disease and cancer.

The Integrative Biology Project, launched last week, will build a giant computing grid to enable researchers to model highly complex biological systems.

The project will then be able to use advanced computer simulations to help scientists understand the diseases.

In about three years, the modelling could enable drugs research without the need for human trials in the first stages.

The project is based at Oxford's e-Science Centre.

The university also announced last week that it was to construct a £4 million building to house its e-science work.

Paul Jeffreys, director of the centre, said: "The web has given us shared access to information on the internet. The new technology for e-science - a system called the grid - will provide shared and secure access to distributed computing resources."

Six UK universities are involved in the biology project, as well as the University of Auckland in New Zealand, which is headed by Oxford's next vice-chancellor, John Hood.

The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is also a partner.

Professor Jeffreys said: "Our relationship with IBM goes back 20 years. In projects such as the biology project, we will use its software expertise to further develop our initial ideas."

David Gavaghan, leader of the biology project, said: "In the post-genomic era, the challenge is to make full use of the vast wealth of experimental data available.

"Full exploitation of this resource will require the development of a coherent underpinning theory of biology.

"Our aim in this project is to build the e-science infrastructure required to support these endeavours while focusing on heart disease and cancer."

Oxford already has a number of e-science projects up and running. These include the lifesaver project, which uses screensaver time from computers belonging to members of the public to screen 3.5 billion molecules for cancer-fighting potential - a total of 2.5 million computers are involved.

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