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UCLA Sets Up New Quantitative and Computational Biosciences Institute

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The University of California, Los Angeles has set up a new Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences that will use multidisciplinary research methods to develop tools that will ultimately help physicians personalize treatments and improve care while minimizing side effects.

The center will engage faculty from both the life and physical sciences including from the David Geffen School of Medicine and Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science "to ensure that UCLA is at the forefront of research that will help usher in a new era of personalized health care, and to transform research and education in the biosciences," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement.

The institute will be led by Alexander Hoffmann, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics at UCLA. In his research, Hoffmann studies how genes interact to ensure health or produce disease and the roles played by such factors as food, environmental stresses, infectious agents, and pharmaceuticals.

As part of their efforts, he and other researchers at the new institute will work on creating mathematical models that help them make sense of biological data. "So far, biology has been much less math-based than the other sciences [but] since the sequencing of the human genome in the early 2000s, there has been an irreversible change in the way biology and biomedical research are being done," Hoffmann said in a statement. "At UCLA, we will lead research in that direction and connect basic and applied sciences in an unprecedentedly productive collaboration."

Victoria Sork, the dean of the UCLA Division of Life Sciences, predicted that the new center will help speed up research discoveries in areas such as medicine, the environment, energy, and food production and safety. "Technological breakthroughs are enabling scientists to analyze not only one gene at a time, but how hundreds or thousands of genes work together," she said in a statement. "Combined with big data, new knowledge of critical gene networks will lead us to a better understanding of what makes humans healthy."

UCLA is also planning new programs that will provide avenues for computational scientists to train clinicians to work with large datasets and use insights they gain to make better treatment decisions for their patients. The university also plans to hire additional faculty for its new institute in the next several years.