New York, N.Y. — The Cornell Theory Center (CTC) is part of a $160 million, tri-institutional collaboration in basic biological research announced June 23 in Manhattan.
The collaboration includes Cornell University and its Weill Medical College, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and The Rockefeller University and will include support for high-performance computing resources and staff at CTC, in addition to a dozen new joint faculty positions, reflecting the level of investment demanded by the technological demands of science today.
“This new and unique institutional collaboration of these outstanding research centers will allow us to take on the most exciting intellectual challenges of the 21st century: how to utilize the full knowledge of the human genome and how to apply new technologies in structural biology and nanotechnology to advance human health,” said Cornell president Hunter Rawlings. “Each of our institutions brings unique talents and resources to our partnership, so we are a good fit. For example, CTC in Ithaca, which houses our supercomputer, will play a significant role in this venture.”
Rawlings said the new venture was made possible by a lead gift from a private donor.
The partner institutions will create core facilities for fundamental technologies such as high-performance computing, physical analysis of molecular structure, light and electron microscopy, DNA sequencing and other tools for genetic analysis and the broad range of chemical techniques that are applied to biology.
Among the unique aspects of the partnership will be its group governance by the leaders of each institution. Laboratory space also will be shared, and each of the institutions is now examining the feasibility of developing new laboratories.
“This is a remarkable time in the history of biology and in the history of our institutions. The technological requirements for fully utilizing our new understanding of the human genome extend beyond the discipline of biology and the boundaries of any single institution,” said Harold Varmus, director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, “and we recognize that New York’s strength in the scientific arena depends on our ability to work together.”
The three areas targeted for development are:
* Chemical biology: A new generation of drugs will be precisely targeted to block or reverse disease processes at the molecular level. Development of these new therapies will depend on collaborations among chemists, cell biologists and biophysicists who study protein structure. These integrated teams will play an essential role in realizing the potential of the Human Genome Project, particularly in the analysis and categorization of the proteins coded by the full set of human genes.
* Computational biology: High-throughput methods, such as those employed by the Human Genome Project, are producing massive quantities of data that remain in a disorganized state. Collaboration among computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, engineers and biologists is needed to identify functional connections among genes and to work toward eventual applications in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of human disease.
* Cancer biology: Under the cooperative venture, cell and developmental biologists will invent and apply new technologies to understand how healthy cells grow and differentiate, and how the disruption of normal processes can lead to tumor formation. The participating institutions will expand their programs in cell and developmental biology, with an emphasis on developing and applying techniques for chemical intervention in cellular processes and real-time imaging of living cells.
“The convergence of disciplines we are seeing today has its own momentum, but we can help it along with strategic planning,” said Arnold J. Levine, Rockefeller’s president. “We must provide researchers with the financial and technical resources they need to achieve the breakthroughs that will lead to new applications for the patient.”
“CTC is poised to provide leading-edge technical resources to this initiative,” said CTC director Thomas F. Coleman. “In addition, we bring to the table expertise in computational genomics, in particular from our NCRR Parallel Processing Resource for Biomedical Scientists.” CTC associate director Ron Elber, director of the NIH NCRR resource and Cornell professor of computer science, will be the lead researcher for the initiative’s target area in computational biology.
CTC is a high-performance computing and interdisciplinary research center located at Cornell University. CTC receives funding from Cornell University, New York State, a number of federal agencies, and Corporate Program members.