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The Virtual Physiological Rat

The NIH awards $13 million to create a computer model of a lab rat.

Aug 12, 2011
Jessica P. Johnson

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, STEVENFRUITSMAAK

Lab rats are finally catching a break. The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has received a 5-year, $13 million grant to establish a National Center for Systems Biology, reports Newswise. The first task of the Center will be to create a virtual lab rat—a computer model that will gather all available research data for rats into one place.

By integrating the widespread data into a single model, researchers will be able to better understand rat physiology as a whole and to predict how multiple systems will interact in response to environmental and genetic causes of disease. They will also be able to input multiple causes at once and observe the virtual rat’s physiological response. The research will focus on diseases including hypertension, renal disease, heart failure, and metabolic syndromes.

“The Virtual Physiological Rat allows us to create a model for disease that takes into account the many genes and environmental factors believed to be associated,” Daniel Beard, a computational biologist and the principal investigator on the grant, said in a press release.

But rats aren’t completely off the hook. Once the computer model generates hypotheses about systemic response to disease, researchers will use the information to produce new knockout strains of rats to verify the model’s predictions.

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