I learnt today that Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder and big-time philanthropist, is launching the Allen Institute for Cell Science in Seattle. Allen, who has a track record of backing life science causes such as the Allen Institute for Brain Science, has committed $100M to the project which aims to create predictive models of how human cells work and accelerate disease research as a result.

Cells are, as Allen asserts, “the fundamental units of life, with every disease we know of affecting particular types of cells.” While scientists now know quite a lot about the 50 trillion cells operating in our bodies, large-scale data analysis seems likely to accelerate the learning process.

Bruce Alberts, cell scientist at the University of California, San Francisco and an advisor to the Allen Institute explains: "As we have learned more about the enormous complexity of cell chemistry in recent years, it has become clear that we will need both new types of data and new computational tools to understand even the simplest living cells."

Generating such predictive models is a difficult task. Nevertheless, the Institute hopes that by integrating different technologies and approaches at large scale and under one roof, it will be able to make useful data publicly available online to the world’s cell biologists and biochemists.

While Allen is a driving force behind the initiative, the Institute will be run by Rick Horwitz, former director of the Cell Migration Consortium and cell biology professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Horwitz says he is excited about the prospect of engaging the global cell science community. stating that “by openly sharing our data, reagents, databases and models, we will leverage and empower research by our colleagues around the world.”

The Institute will take a multidisciplinary, team science-driven approach and its inaugural project will study the transition of induced pluripotent stem cells into heart muscle and epithelial cells, creating computational models of the cells' behavior as the first part of a larger visual database.