Ga Tech Creates Integrative BioSystems Institute

As new technologies and instruments allow for the collection of enormous amounts of data on biological systems, scientists are left to ponder how to interpret this newfound information and apply it to living systems. The Georgia Institute of Technology has created the Integrative BioSystems Institute (IBSI) to explore new technologies and methods to collect and analyze these millions of pieces of biological information in order to form a more complete picture of how life works and how the environment affects living things.

"In biology, we can now measure the expression of 50,000 genes at a time. Needless to say, no one can analyze these massive amounts of data by hand," said Eberhard Voit, founding director of the Integrative BioSystems Institute, David D. Flanagan Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. "So, computer methods and mathematical models are needed to help us put all these pieces of information together in order to solve some of the grand challenges in biology."

The new institute is expected to provide a research focus for as many as 20 - 30 new faculty members as well as existing faculty members and students and will be housed in a new facility in the near future, Voit said. IBSI could represent a major investment of up to or more than $100 million by Georgia Tech over the next several years.

Integrative systems biology is an interdisciplinary science that studies how complex biological systems react individually, together and with the environment. While biologists may understand a good bit about a certain cell in the body, they know much less about how that cell may affect other cells or processes elsewhere in the body or how the cell responds to a combination of environmental factors or drugs. They may understand that a certain gene contributes to breast cancer, but they have little idea of which other hundreds or thousands of genes may be directly or indirectly involved and how each of those genes is affected by lifestyle, drugs or environmental factors.

IBSI at Georgia Tech will work to create new devices and techniques for elucidating biological systems; analyzing experimental results with methods of engineering, mathematics, physics, and computer science; and using insights from these multi-disciplinary investigations to attack biomedical tasks that were previously too complex to address.

"The ultimate goal, which we can only see in the distant future, is to develop simulations of entire cell systems capable of predicting how a body (or even a specific patient) will respond to a multitude of stimuli, medications, and environmental exposures and lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer," Voit said.

IBSI will focus the majority of its research efforts toward three areas: understanding the development of normal cells into cancer cells, the interaction between humans and microbes in the environment and the development of enabling techniques for analyzing biological systems.

The Integrative BioSystems Institute at Georgia Tech is a collaboration between the Colleges of Science, Engineering and Computing. The institute will provide a physical and intellectual focus for integrative, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research in the quantitative life sciences. IBSI promotes synergism among researchers with complementary skills and addresses complex multi-level problems in biology that cannot be solved by any researcher or scientific discipline alone.