RPI gets NIH grant for cheminformatics: NIH award is largest of six awarded to universities across the country

Six universities nationwide can claim the honor of having been awarded grants by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the development of exploratory centers for cheminformatics research. But with only $4 million earmarked by NIH in fiscal year 2005 for this program, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is clearly the leader with its nearly $1 million award.

Jeffrey Bouley
TROY, N.Y.—Six universities nationwide can claim the honor of having been awarded grants by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the development of exploratory centers for cheminformatics research. But with only $4 million earmarked by NIH in fiscal year 2005 for this program, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is clearly the leader with its nearly $1 million award.
 
The two-year planning grant from the NIH will provide a foundation for the development of the Rensselaer Exploratory Center for Cheminformatics Research (RECCR), which will bring together an interdisciplinary research team to seek improved understanding of the relationships between chemical structure and function for use in biotechnology applications.
 
"One major application of this work will be to identify emerging technologies that can predict chemical compound behavior for use in drug discovery and other biotechnology processes," says Dr. Curt M. Breneman, professor of chemistry and chemical biology and principal investigator for the project.
 
Cheminformatics is the application of computational techniques to problems in chemistry, such as understanding chemical structures and their biological activities for use in drug discovery, Breneman explains. This is related to bioinformatics, which is the application of computational techniques to problems in biology, such as making sense of large amounts of gene sequencing data for use in identifying genetic markers of disease. The RECCR, to be located in the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies building, will bring together researchers from varied disciplines who are interested in using cheminformatics, bioinformatics and machine learning techniques to predict the behavior of chemical compounds in biological systems.
 
Departments at Rensselaer that will participate in the work of the new center include chemistry and chemical biology; chemical and biological engineering; computer science, decision sciences and engineering systems; mathematical sciences; and physics, applied physics and astronomy.
 
As Rensselaer continues its expansion into biotechnology and life sciences research, this interdisciplinary collaboration will serve as an excellent illustration of how Rensselaer can contribute to accelerating drug discovery efforts, says Omkaram Nalamasu, Rensselaer's vice president for research.
 
"One of the other really important components of this effort is that this two-year grant is bringing people together to show the feasibility of setting up things for a larger grant, later on, that might be a multi-site grant," Breneman says. "So our success here will denote whether we will be one of those large centers to be established. There probably won't be more than three such centers, at most, if things move forward. But we figure we'll have a good chance of being one of them. We've hit the ground running and have good people involved."
 
The other five universities awarded NIH grants for cheminformatics centers were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Indiana University, North Carolina State University, University of Michigan, and University of North Carolina. The RECCR will collaborate with those institutions as well as internal and local researchers in New York to varying degrees—though the North Carolina center will likely be the one center that gets the most collaboration, Breneman says, given that he has published together with the head of that center in the past.

Jeffrey Bouley

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