At the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, researchers are using IBM technology to open up new dimensions in biological modeling. With the help of an IBM Shared University Research (SUR) Award and an IBM supercomputer, Pitt is using leading-edge in silico biological research, which uses computer simulations to explore biological pathways and test therapeutic interventions, tissue engineering, cell therapies and artificial organs and biodevices. The results of such research could significantly reduce the cost of new drug development and shorten the treatment evaluation process – getting treatments to the market faster and cheaper. These modeling techniques are similar to those used to generate the fantasy creatures of other worlds in movies, such as “Lord of the Rings” and the “Star Trek” series. So instead of creating an imaginary character to fill out a battle scene, Pitt scientists are applying computational techniques to simulate, for example, inflamed liver cells morphing into cancer. That allows them to see not only how tumors develop, but how drugs or other interventions could affect disease progression.
For example, the Pitt research team has simulated liver tissue to study how a chronic hepatitis infection can lead to liver cancer, lung tissues to study viral infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and skin to study how patients with spinal cord injuries develop pressure ulcers. This type of advanced modeling can help researchers better understand basic biological processes and allows them to screen drugs and determine their impact on the body to uncover the best interventions for a broad range of diseases.
Photo credit: University of Pittsburgh Center for Inflammation and Regenerative Modeling