|FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
Volume 57, Number 3
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Digital Human Steps Ahead
"The ultimate goal of the Digital Human project is construction of a complete, functioning, accessible simulation of the human body," Chris Johnson of the University of Utah told a packed lunch meeting on Capitol Hill June 24.
Johnson characterized the task of modeling the body's processes from DNA molecules and proteins to cells, tissues and gross anatomy a “grand challenge.” Grand challenges are overarching problems that arise due to breakthroughs in knowledge and technology and across fields. Biomedical science is producing such a quantity of data, he said, that researchers and medical practitioners find it harder and harder to use each others' data. They need a single shared computational framework in order to make use of each other's research and to properly collaborate, he said.
The FAS’ Digital Human consortium is bringing together researchers who have begun linking data by developing a unified ontology and geometry. Imaging is a key element of biomedical computation. "The availability of imaging across a range of scales will spur spectacular discovery," Johnson said.
The ideas for Digital Human were brought together by the Federation of American Scientists several years ago. The project is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The lunch was the best attended in the series, drawing about 80, said a spokesman for the Joint Steering Committee on Public Policy. The JSCPP organizes them for the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus. They draw staff, business, non-profits and members of Congress. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) also attended and spoke, calling on Congress to support the Digital Human initiative.
Johnson is a well known investigator in the field of biomedical computing. He is also Director of the School of Computing, and Director of the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute at the University of Utah.