Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                         CONTACT:
September 14, 1995                                Michael Schneider
                                                  Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Receives Grant for Biomedical Research

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) has received $6 million from the National Institutes of Health to undertake new biomedical research. The grant, effective September 1, covers five years and supports work by PSC scientists applying supercomputing to research in molecular biology. The grant also funds PSC programs to develop software and provide computational resources, consulting and training to biomedical researchers around the country.

"This program fills a crucial need in biomedical research," said Caroline Holloway, acting director of the Biomedical Research Technology Program of NIH's National Center for Research Resources, which approved the grant. "It bridges the gap between complex biomedical problems and the unique capabilities of supercomputers. PSC provides the national biomedical research community with the world's most advanced high-performance computing resources. It provides excellent user support, and it expands the range of biomedically-relevant software, databases and visualization capability that are available to biomedical researchers."

PSC's biomedical program was initiated in 1987, when the center received a three-year, $2.2 million grant from NIH, the first grant of this kind in the country, to provide supercomputing resources, user support and training for biomedical research. In 1990, NIH funded an expansion of PSC's biomedical program with a $6 million, five-year grant establishing the center as an NIH Research Resource. The current grant renews this role, funding five core research projects that advance development of new technologies in computational biology.

Since its inception, PSC's biomedical program has provided access to computing resources for more than 800 biomedical research projects involving nearly 1,700 researchers in 39 states and the District of Columbia. The center's workshops on computational biology have trained more than 800 researchers in the use of high-performance computing for biomedical research, in such areas as sequence analysis in genome research, the structure of proteins and DNA, and biological fluid dynamics.

Among notable biomedical research carried out at PSC has been the development of three-dimensional computational model of blood flow in the heart, its valves and major vessels. This project, led by Charles Peskin of New York University, won the 1994 Sidney Fernbach award, which recognizes "outstanding contribution in the application of high-performance computers." With this computational model, it will be possible to address many questions about normal and diseased heart function that are difficult or impossible to address in animal and clinical studies.

PSC's biomedical program also facilitated research by University of Pittsburgh biologist John Rosenberg on the interactions between DNA and proteins. Through programs at PSC, Rosenberg formed a research collaboration with pharmaceutical chemist Peter Kollman of the University of California, San Francisco, a specialist in computational biology, and their work at PSC has led to fundamental insights into the process by which proteins recognize and attach to specific sites along the long, twisted strands of a DNA molecule.

In another project, biologist Chien Ho of Carnegie Mellon University is carrying out detailed studies of the structure of hemoglobin, the essential blood protein that takes oxygen from the lungs and delivers it to the rest of the body. Ho's computations on mutant structures of hemoglobin are guiding experimental work aimed at developing a replacement for donated blood.

The five core PSC research projects funded by the NIH grant renewal are: (1) improved methods for molecular dynamics calculations used to determine the structure and thermodynamic properties of proteins, (2) a detailed computational model of how calcium, magnesium and other divalent metal ions bind to proteins, (3) development of a protein-structure database that identifies relationships among different structural features of proteins, (4) an artificial intelligence, knowledge-based approach to Protein and DNA sequence analysis.

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint project of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh together with Westinghouse Electric Corporation, was established in 1986 by a grant from the National Science Foundation with support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Its purpose is to develop and make available state-of-the-art high-performance computing for scientific researchers nationwide.

# # #

Related articles with graphics on research by Charles Peskin, John Rosenberg, Chien Ho.

go back to contents page