Katy Börner, Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering’s Victor H. Yngve Professor of Engineering & Information, and Distinguished Professor of Engineering & Information Science, has been named co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s new The Multiscale Human program.
The other co-directors are Sarah Teichmann of Wellcome Sanger Institute & Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, and Gary Bader of the University of Toronto in Canada.
The program will produce a “Google map” of the human body by using the latest techniques in microscopy and genomics to map everything from individual molecules to the entire body, across populations and time. The goal is to create a universal encyclopedia of the body to transform biomedical research and practice.
It will use machine learning and an interdisciplinary approach to address challenges such as combining data across modalities, spatial and temporal scales, and accurately represent human diversity
“Mapping the human body at multiple scales is a marvelous challenge that will require both human and machine intelligence,” Börner said.
The Multiscale Human project could result in a “Digital Twin” program, Börner said, that would start at birth and be used to predict ideal fitness, nutrition and medical treatments.
“Working towards this self-understanding will help us solve some of the most pressing challenges we face in improving our health and reducing human suffering,” Börner said.
As director of the Luddy School’s Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, Börner has been at the forefront of developing the Human Reference Atlas, which provides a high-resolution, three-dimensional view of some of the human body’s 37 trillion cells to spark medical advances in health, research and beyond.
The Multiscale Human program is part of CIFAR’s Global Call for Ideas, which seeks new program proposals to explore the long-term intersection of humans, science and technology, the environment, and social and cultural systems. The goal is to address challenges that require a diverse team utilizing multiple disciplines such as life sciences, physical sciences, arts, social sciences and more.
The CIFAR is a Canada-based global research organization that gathers teams of elite international researchers to tackle key questions facing science and humanity. More than a thousand researchers -- including those who have won the Nobel Prize, the Turning Award and the Körber European Science Prize -- from over 30 countries have supported its research programs.
The Multiscale Human program is poised to deliver breakthrough discoveries, Teichmann said.
“The fundamental knowledge we discover about the human body, coupled with our new experimental and computational methods for multiscale analysis, promises to spur a revolution in medicine,” she said. “Despite knowing that a mutation at the DNA level can affect all levels of the body's systems, we have little understanding of these effects and how they relate to each other.
“I think many of our biggest discoveries will be entirely unanticipated.”
Added Bader: “Learning how this works would enable us to predict the effects of genetic and environmental perturbations and how to control them.”