Professor Jaroslav Stark from Imperial College London's Department of Mathematics has been appointed the new director of the interdisciplinary Centre for Integrative Systems Biology at Imperial College (CISBIC). Professor Stark will take up his four-year post at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded centre in January 2007.
CISBIC is one of six such BBSRC centres across the UK, which is bringing mathematicians and computer scientists together with biologists to shed new light on biological problems at the molecular and cellular levels. The centres also receive funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The Imperial centre's research focuses on microbes that cause disease, such as bacteria and funghi, and the way that they interact with the hosts they infect. The CISBIC team are looking at the fundamental science behind the initial immune response to infection that occurs in cells. Mathematicians and computer scientists have a vital role to play in this process, helping biologists to deal with the vast amounts of data. Ultimately such understanding could help to contribute to the development of better vaccines for major diseases such as tuberculosis.
‘We model the interactions between pathogens and our body’s systems to combat these,’ Professor Stark told scientific-computing.com. ‘Not everything can be done experimentally, but you can simulate many things on a computer which will then tell you what may be of interest back in the labs.’ Professor Stark compared this process to the design of the car – the difference being that there is comparatively much less understanding of how the body works than the engineering of a car.
Many academics believe there is still a significant ‘language gap’ between mathematicians and biologists. Many of the British research councils have been keen to bridge this gap. During his tenure as centre director, Professor Stark hopes to stimulate more partnership working and to encourage more mathematicians and biologists to collaborate. He told scientific-computing.com: ‘I hope to improve this by organising seminars, workshops and conferences and to encourage interaction on a social level. This will raise awareness of the potential of interdisciplinary communication. We want to develop systems biology so it’s just another tool for researchers. It mustn’t become specialised and yet another discipline that other scientists can’t access.’
In addition, under his tenure the CISBIC will expand its research to look at the infection of more mammals, and even insects, and to establish international links between institutions.