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UB Center for Computational Research to Play Key Role in New York State Biotech Initiative

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The State University of New York at Buffalo’s Center for Computational Research is gearing up to support a Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics planned for Buffalo.

New York Governor George Pataki unveiled his $1 billion Center of Excellence initiative in his January State of the State address. The plan also includes a Center of Excellence in Photonics and Optoelectronics at Rochester and a Center of Excellence in Nanotechnology in Albany.

Partners in the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics include the University at Buffalo, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute — a research-based combination that sets the center apart from the others planned as part of the initiative, which are based on local industry.

“Buffalo doesn’t have the Cornings and Xeroxes and Kodaks of the world,” said Russ Miller, director of the CCR. But the university’s research strength in bioinformatics combined with the nearby “Buffalo medical corridor” encouraged the governor to locate the proposed bioinformatics center in the city, Miller said.

Negotiations with industrial partners interested in supporting the bioinformatics center are being finalized now, Miller said. Potential corporate partners include biotech and pharmaceutical companies, computer and bioinformatics vendors, and engineering companies.

The proposed center is only one aspect of a three-part state initiative to build a biotechnology base in the area. In addition, as part of the state’s Strategically Targeted Academic Research program (NYSTAR), $15.3 million has been allocated for a proposed Center of Disease Modeling and Therapy Discovery, where scientists from UB, Roswell Park, Hauptman-Woodward, and Kaleida Health will conduct gene research. The state also set aside $1 million to support a Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technologies in Buffalo to help link biomedical and bioengineering researchers with manufacturers to move products to market.

“The whole package is similar to what’s going on in North Carolina,” said Miller, referring to the recent launch of the North Carolina State Bioinformatics Research Center, which has set out to build a program with strong support from the strong biotech industry in the Research Triangle Park, NC, area.

But due to their strong focus on research, the Buffalo centers will have the added capability of allowing researchers to “go all the way from designing algorithms to gene expression studies to clinical trials and bedside testing,” Miller said.

The CCR will provide the compute power and visualization tools to support all three centers. The CCR maintains several supercomputers, including an SGI Origin2000, an IBM SP, a Sun Cluster, an SGI Pentium Cluster, and a Compaq Alpha Cluster. The CCR also supports a number of 3D visualization systems, and intends to support a CAVE virtual immersive environment at the bioinformatics center.

Miller said the bioinformatics center’s computing facilities would remain at the CCR, while the visualization tools would be installed on site. The CCR intends to ramp up its data storage and computational capabilities by an order of magnitude or more in order to meet the demands of the new bioinformatics center.

Miller intends to continue in his position as director of the CCR once the other facilities are opened. Bruce Holm, a professor at UB’s department of pharmacology and toxicology, is currently the head of the bioinformatics center, which has yet to appoint a director.

— BT

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