Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Step conference

I have just returned from my trip to Brussels for the Step conference in which a Physiome project was discussed. We had talks from some very nice speakers about which I will write in another post.

The Physiome project (or at least what I understood about it after being exposed to the idea for the very first time during this conference) is a highly ambitious project (and that is probably an understatement) whose aim is to integrate all the current and future knowledge about the human physiology. The idea is thus a multiscale modular framework in which all the models about the different parts of the human physiology could be integrated. Such a model would have a tremendous impact on our understanding of physiology, let alone the potential benefits for pharmaceutical companies. For all of you who have any experience doing modeling of biological processes I guess I don't need to tell you how (let's understate it once again) challenging this could be. In any case I am fine with any (extremly) difficult project as long as the intermediate steps are worth something.

In my opinion, the guys in the Step project should aim at something quite modest such as some system by which modelers can integrate just a few models together so different groups can check the consistency of their models and their assumptions. This process will probably take a long while but eventually most modellers will be used to think of their models not in isolation but as something that has to make sense in the context of all the models being developed elsewhere. There should be some infrastructure so the models can be shared between researchers and some protocols and interfaces between models at different scales or across the same scale (say molecular, cellular or tissue) so there can be integration.

One of the speakers mentioned that the keywords in this project are multiscale and modularity. I suggest taking a look at the field of software engineering in which different groups and companies work in different modules and at different levels of abstraction. The software produced is expected to work with other software modules. Of course the complexity to manage is different in the Physiome project but I still think it would be a good starting point.
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