STANFORD, Calif.--A $150 million donation made recently to Stanford University by Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics and Netscape, was a "signal to other donors that an exciting thing is happening here," said James Spudich, director of Bio-X, Stanford’s fledgling program for bioengineering, biomedicine, and biosciences. Clark’s gift will fully fund construction of the Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, which will serve as a hub for the campus-wide, interdisciplinary program.
Biocomputation will be a major component of Bio-X, Spudich told BioInform. "Whether you’re dealing with single molecule analyses, or massive amounts of functional genomics data, or you’re trying to do high-power imaging of the human body using rendered magnetic resonance imaging, everything requires a huge upgrade in biocomputational work," he said. "Part of that means just upgrading computer capabilities, but a lot of what it means is designing whole new algorithms, many of which we don’t even know about yet."
Spudich said he and other Stanford faculty began talking two years ago about developing a program that would operate across Stanford’s schools of medicine, engineering, and humanities and science. Their goal, he said, was to bring scientists from various disciplines together "mixed in space such that the interdisciplinary crossovers push frontiers forward on all these different levels."
The Clark Center, to be erected next door to Stanford’s Gates computer sciences building, will be just such a space, and will likely house the sort of technology for which the university’s scientists presently rely on the nearby Silicon Graphics Institute, Spudich said. Plans include installing high-powered imaging caves and a three-dimensional imaging theater. "We will have failed if it turns out that we don’t come up with changes in how we do biocompuational work that are going to be needed for the future developments of everything from molecules to man," he added.
Spudich surmised that Stanford could be the only academic institution undertaking a project with such a broad interdisciplinary scope. For instance, Harvard University’s new functional genomics institute integrates several scientific areas, but lacks the immediate proximity to engineering and medical school talent that Bio-X has. At Stanford, the Clark Center will be planted in the midst of medical, engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science experts. The mix will enable Stanford to extrapolate genomics discoveries to a variety of applications.
"Even if you want to create a digital man, or do tissue engineering where you’re concerned with artificial implants, you can’t do any of that without understanding the protein molecules in the cells and how they’re functioning," Spudich said. "It’s such an underpinning foundation of everything else, that certainly functional genomics is an essential element of the whole thing."