The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week launched a new series of grants for large-scale collaborative projects by pledging $25 million over five years towards the construction of a ‘virtual cell’.
The first ever ‘glue grant’ — so-called because it aims to link research between different institutions — has been awarded to the Alliance for Cellular Signaling (AFCS), a consortium based at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and headed by Al Gilman, professor of pharmacology there.
The AFCS was formed last year to draw up a complete map of the interactions between one thousand proteins in two types of mouse cell (see Nature 402, 219; 1999). It links 50 investigators, who will provide planning and data analysis, seven laboratories devoted to conducting experiments in protein–protein interaction, and 250 ‘members’ who will specialize in compiling protein data and posting them on websites.
The alliance will initially screen for single protein–protein interactions, then build models of complete signalling networks once every element has been characterized. “We'd really like to represent these pathways completely,” says Gilman.
The five-year project will actually cost $50 million. Gilman is raising the other half from pharmaceutical companies and non-profit research organizations. The grant to the AFCS is one of several massive collaborative projects the NIH intends to launch during the next fiscal year that are intended to “facilitate the next evolutionary stage of integrative biomedical science”.