Three Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering professors have secured a prestigious two-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. This grant supports "Open VT - A Standardized Ecosystem for Virtual Tissue Simulation," a groundbreaking initiative that promises to revolutionize scientific and medical research.
James Glazier, professor of Intelligent Systems Engineering; Paul Macklin, associate professor of Intelligent Systems Engineering; and David Wild, professor of Informatics and Computing; lead the research in collaboration with Herbert M. Sauro from the University of Washington's Department of Bio-engineering and the Director of the Center of Reproducibility in Biomedical Modeling. Glazier and Macklin are also faculty in the Biocomplexity Institute.
The NSF’s Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems aims to harness the power of open-source development for the creation of new technology solutions to problems of national and societal importance, and catalyze further innovation.
The goal is to harness open-source development, creating transformative technological solutions for pressing societal challenges.
Virtual Tissues, or VTs, are advanced simulations used extensively in biological, medical, and toxicological research and engineering to recreate the behaviors and interactions of up to millions of cells. They offer a glimpse into tissue development, maintenance, and failures, potentially pioneering innovative disease treatments.
But there's a challenge.
“As of now, VTs resemble the early era of personal computers,” Glazier said. “Switching between VT frameworks feels like transitioning between different PC brands in the 80s, demanding an almost total relearning process. This lack of compatibility among VT frameworks not only hampers their efficiency but also deters many from using them.”
Enter OpenVT. This game-changing project intends to develop standards, starting with the internationally prominent open-source VT frameworks CompuCell3D and PhysiCell developed by Glazier and Macklin, ensuring interoperability of VT simulations and software components, and creating the infrastructure to encourage and support community extensions.
Indiana University is one of the world’s leading developers of VT frameworks.
The ultimate aim is to spread this interoperability industry-wide, benefiting various open-source VT platforms.
“Think of OpenVT as the force that propels both the operating systems and the developmental tools of VTs into the future," Glazier said.
Added Wild: “We're on the brink of transformative insights in medicine, especially with the strategic application of AI and knowledge graphs.”
Wild said he’s eager to combine his expertise in integrative data science with Glazier's research.
“Stakes involve more than scientific advancement,” Wild said. “Improved VTs could potentially diminish the need for animal-based tests, opening avenues for novel medical and drug discoveries.”
Added Glazier: “Many principles of engineering, from aerospace to informatics, haven't truly touched areas of biomedicine. VT modeling is the bridge we've been waiting for.”
However, collaboration is key. Many VT projects, conducted by isolated research groups, face the danger of becoming obsolete once completed. OpenVT aims to make VT models more reusable, efficient, and acceptable to regulatory bodies such as the FDA and EPA.
As Kyle Stirling, head of Global Research Initiatives for the Crisis Technologies Innovation Lab, puts it, this project is about “setting universal standards and encouraging wider collaboration.”
Added Glazier: “Building the right tools is paramount. Without them, crucial research remains stagnant. We're excited to focus on tools that will propel the biomedical research community forward, especially with the invaluable backing from the NSF."