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The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group Announces Allen Discovery Center at Stanford University

$10 million grant will create Center to drive progress in cutting-edge cell systems modeling to understand the complex multicellular basis of infectious disease

March 23, 2016 | Download PDF

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group announced today the creation of an Allen Discovery Center at Stanford University for Multiscale, Systems Modeling of Macrophage Infection, to be led by Markus Covert, Ph.D. The new Allen Discovery Center will integrate cutting-edge modeling, computation and experimental measurements to create multiscale models of infectious Salmonella bacteria as they infect human immune cells, shedding new light on how this complex system of cell behaviors creates infectious disease. The Center is funded at $10 million over four years, with the potential for expansion to $20 million over eight years.

“This Center will be the first to attempt coupling of computational modeling at multiple scales spanning from diverse cell types to thousands of cells for the critical problem of host defense,” says Tom Skalak, Ph.D., Executive Director of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. “The unprecedented predictive power will help understand and treat host-pathogen interactions during infection, which will benefit humanity worldwide.”

Creating models that span from the inner workings of cells to the interactions between whole cells is a grand challenge of systems biology, and successful models are poised to have tremendous impact for researchers who study disease. Models that integrate the full complexity of cellular behaviors, environments and interactions will provide insight into the long-standing mystery of how infectious agents impact heterogeneous populations of cells to cause illness, and how our immune system works to fight infections and disease.

“We’ve assembled a unique team with the experience to bring the latest biological and bioengineering knowledge together with industrial scale computational methods,” says Covert, Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University. “We expect that the resulting multicellular modeling platform, which will be available to everyone, will be transform the rate at which biological discovery occurs in many areas of bioscience, well beyond infectious diseases.”

"We are grateful for the recognition and support of Stanford’s faculty in the area of quantitative bioscience,” says Stanford President John L. Hennessy. "The application of engineering and computational techniques to solving the hardest problems in biomedicine is one of the most exciting and promising research directions, as Professor Covert's work shows.”

The Allen Discovery Center at Stanford University will combine the expertise of modelers, computational scientists and biologists to create new models that comprehensively represent large systems of whole cells, as well as their dynamic environments and interactions. Researchers will focus on Salmonella infection of immune cells called macrophages: a system that provides insight not just into how bacteria interact with the immune system, but how drug resistance in populations of bacteria first arises.

Allen Discovery Centers are a new form of funding for leadership-driven, compass-guided research at the frontiers of science. The creation of an Allen Discovery Center at Stanford University to model infectious bacteria and immune cell interactions will promote research at the intersection of bioengineering and immunology to improve our understanding of health and disease, and set the stage for breakthroughs that will change the fields of science and medicine.

About The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group is dedicated to exploring the landscape of science to identify and fund pioneers with ideas that will advance knowledge and make the world better. Through continuous dialogue with scientists across the world, The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group seeks opportunities to expand the boundaries of knowledge and solve important problems. Programs include the Allen Discovery Centers at partner institutions for leadership-driven, compass-guided research, and the Allen Distinguished Investigators for frontier explorations with exceptional creativity and potential impact. The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group was founded in 2016 by philanthropist and visionary Paul G. Allen. For more information visit allenfrontiersgroup.org.

About the Stanford University Department of Bioengineering

The Stanford Department of Bioengineering is jointly operated by the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering. Its goal is to create a fusion of engineering and the life sciences that promotes scientific discovery and the invention of new technologies and therapies through research and education.