The Broad Institute was founded in 2003 with the goal of harnessing genome-based knowledge to transform medicine. This week, the institute announced the launch of a new center—the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center—that will sit at the intersection of biology and machine learning.
The center will bring together researchers from both academia and industry to promote interdisciplinary research between the data and life sciences to improve human health. In recognition of the Schmidts’ gift of $150 million, the Broad Foundation announced an additional $150 million endowment gift to the Broad Institute.
Two recent revolutions inspired the creation of the Schmidt Center: the exponential growth and widespread adaptation of data technologies like machine learning and cloud computing, and the dramatic advances in generating massive amounts of data about living systems through next-generation DNA sequencing, single-cell genomics, and advanced medical imaging.
“Biology is now producing data at previously unimaginable scales—but our ability to understand and interpret that data hasn’t kept pace,” said Todd Golub, MD, director of the Broad Institute. “Adapting the methods of machine learning for biology will give scientists the chance to understand the programs of life, and the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center will enable new partnerships between academia and industry that can greatly accelerate our progress.”
Until now, these fields have largely developed in parallel. Their convergence will create a new era of biology, one that is expected to yield a deep understanding of biological processes, with the ultimate aim of improving human health through more powerful disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. This will require creating centers of excellence that can identify problems of fundamental biological importance, translate them into the language of machine learning, and then convene leading researchers from around the world to solve them collaboratively.
“The pandemic has shown us that prioritizing science, innovation, and research is one of the greatest investments we can make in our future,” said Eric Schmidt, a member of the Broad Institute board and co-founder with his wife Wendy of Schmidt Futures, the Schmidt Family Foundation, and Schmidt Ocean Institute. “Much like Eli and Edye Broad saw the potential in creating the Broad Institute, Wendy and I believe this center has the promise to create a new field of science that could benefit human health in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. The Broad Institute is uniquely fertile ground for cultivating a center of excellence in this new field. Beginning with its origins in the human genome project and its extension into statistical genetics and single-cell genomics, the Broad Institute has excelled at connecting the world’s best scientists and software engineers and equipping them with the right tools to seek answers to questions previously thought impossible.”
The Schmidt Center will be co-directed by Caroline Uhler, PhD, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the institute for data, systems, and society at MIT and an associate member of the Broad Institute; and Anthony Philippakis, MD, PhD, Broad’s chief data officer.
In addition to continuing to work closely with MIT, Harvard, and the Harvard-affiliated hospitals, as well as through existing technology partnerships the Broad has already established with Bayer, IBM, Intel, and Verily, the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center will bring a new set of collaborators. They include:
- Mila (Quebec AI Institute), led by Yoshua Bengio
- European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems, Tuebingen, led by Bernhard Schoelkopf
- Oxford Big Data Institute, directed by Cecilia Lindgren (incoming director)
- The Alan Turing Institute, directed by Sir Adrian Smith
- Clinicians and researchers at Mayo Clinic and Geisinger
- Biopharmaceutical companies, including Genentech (a member of the Roche Group), AstraZeneca, and Novartis
- Technology and research companies focused on scientific inquiry, including DeepMind, Google Research, and Microsoft