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Published December 18, 2007 11:54 AM

Software grant could speed medicinal regeneration technologies

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Regenerative medicine -- as in re-growing human limbs -- sounds like the basis for a Hollywood action movie. But a research group at Indiana University Bloomington led by biophysicist James Glazier will soon provide the scientific community with a new tool to help bring futuristic medical technologies to real-world laboratories.

"The future of medicine is in regeneration," said Glazier, who heads Indiana University's Biocomplexity Institute. "And I expect it to be a reality within the next decade."

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Glazier and his colleagues recently received a three-year, $1.5 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to further develop CompuCell3D -- a computer modeling environment that replicates cell movement during growth and organization on a macroscopic scale. Embryonic growth, tissue and organ formation, and healing processes, for example, can be modeled using the program.

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And aside from future regenerative ambitions, the software has current applications in medical areas including stroke, tumor growth, and developmental diseases such as scoliosis.

"The program focuses on how a given set of cells with certain characteristics organize themselves to do things such as create tissues and organs," said Glazier. "It allows scientists to see how pieces fit together and function through 3D models and simulations." 

Glazier has been working on the modeling techniques utilized in CompuCell3D since 1992 and the program itself, shareware free to download, since 1999. The generous NIH grant will allow Glazier and colleagues to enhance the current version by improving its accuracy and the user interface. Their aim is to make the program one of standard use around the world in order to enhance research collaboration. CompuCell3D also will allow scientists to spend more time researching instead of writing their own computer code.

"The improved program will allow less computer savvy researchers to model complex biological models by writing 100 lines of code instead of 100,000. It's like using Microsoft Word. If people had to write letters in C-plus-plus, they'd still be using typewriters," said Glazier, referring to an early programming language developed in 1979.

Glazier expects CompuCell3D to further his own personal area of research -- the growth, health and death of blood vessels. His work includes the study of embryonic development, which he hopes to expand to medical regeneration in the near future. He also studies cancer growth, diabetes, stroke and healing wounds.

"I'd like to be able to grow a chicken on a computer screen from egg to adulthood," said Glazier. "If you can do that, then you can do a lot."

The researchers' ultimate goal of making their software a standard tool is not far from reality. IU hosted its first annual CompuCell3D training workshop last August, and it was attended by scientists from around the world.

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