2012 Update on the National Centers for Biomedical Computing

The Principal Investigators weigh in

Ever since the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began funding the National Centers for Biomedical Computing (NCBCs) just over seven years ago, these powerhouses have been plugging away, building the nation’s computational research infrastructure.  Now a collection of articles about the Centers has been published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA).

Capturing Mitosis Genes in Action

During the one-hour drama that is human cell division, many genes enter and exit the stage. Until now, researchers did not know the identities of many of these actors, nor understand their various roles. Now, using a combination of high-throughput screening methods, time-resolved movies and a supervised machine-learning algorithm, researchers have identified 572 genes that are involved in mitosis in human cells. The raw data and images are available to the research community at www.mitocheck.org.


Neurocomputation of Music, Faces and Belly Laughs

Pattern-classifiers interpret fMRI data

Peek inside the skull of a couch potato watching reruns on TV and you’ll see non-stop patterns of blood flow throughout the brain. If you learn to pick out which activity patterns match up with, say, a good belly laugh, then you might be on your way to reading the viewer’s internal experiences. Recently, experts from a variety of fields competed to glean subjective perceptions like humor from functional MRIs of TV viewers. They were surprisingly successful.


Simulations Find Possible HIV Achilles’ Heel

Molecular dynamics simulations spot alternative drug target

A blindside attack on HIV-1 protease might just combat drug-resistant strains of HIV, according to simulations run by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. When the simulations shut down an exposed movement on the side of the enzyme, the active site shut down as well. The work was published in Biopolymers in June 2006.


Proteins in Knots? NOT!

Knot-detecting algorithm discovers that proteins are rarely knotted

When you accidentally twist a shoelace, garden hose, or necklace, it can get annoyingly tangled into intractable knots. On the microscopic level, biopolymers—string-like molecules such as DNA—also form knots, with one mysterious exception: knotted proteins are rare. Physicists have now used computational methods to quantify just how rare in the May 2006 issue of PLoS Computational Biology.


Simulating Wheelchair Posture

A three-dimensional biomechanical model predicts how effectively functional electrical stimulation (FES) stabilizes seated postures

Implanting electrodes into paralyzed torso muscles can help individuals with spinal cord injury balance in their seats. So say researchers at Case Western Reserve University, who have built a three-dimensional biomechanical model that predicts how effectively functional electrical stimulation (FES) stabilizes seated postures.


Brain Chips

A new technique for measuring neuronal activity on a chip

Neurons are tough cells to study. There are a staggering number of them in most animals, and they are constantly talking with one another. One way to look at groups of neurons in real-time is to take a slice of brain, stimulate it electrically, and measure responses across the slice. Now a new tool may give researchers more neuronal data in the span of a few milliseconds than ever before.


Brain Folding

Computation shows that the skull guides the wrinkling

In the four months before birth, a fetus’s brain grows from a smooth tube of neurons into a highly crinkled, convolved mass of tissue. Because the cerebral cortex has a surface area nearly three times as big as that of its skull cavity, scientists have proposed that this real-estate-space squeeze is what drives the brain’s folding process. Now results from a computational three-dimensional geometric model agree that the skull does help guide the wrinkling—but they also suggest that a growing brain folds up regardless of its container.


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