The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Is Building a Powerful Computing Cluster to Fight Disease With AI

Meta's Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have supported several ventures leveraging A.I. to advance progress in biomedicine in recent years, but few were as ambitious as this.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have a plan to help researchers cure, prevent and manage not just some diseases but all disease by the turn of the century. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced yesterday (Sept. 19) that it will fund the creation of a 1,000-GPU-strong high-performance computing cluster that will enable A.I.-powered biomedical research on a massive scale.

Mark Zuckerberg in tux with Priscilla Chan in black dress pose on red carpet
Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg attending the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Mountain View, California. Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Breakthrough P

Once complete, CZI’s system will be one of the largest dedicated to life science research anywhere in the world and will let researchers leverage complex scientific datasets and large language models (LLMs) to simulate cell behavior.

“Developing a virtual biology simulator is a natural evolution of our work in science over the past seven years,” said CZI Head of Science Stephen Quake in a statement, adding that the project will unify the organization’s efforts to “create a field-wide resource for better understanding cells and cell systems.”

The system will be trained on publicly available datasets in addition to those integrated into the Chan Zuckerberg CELL by GENE (CZ CELLxGENE) software tool, which has data on more than 50 million cells. It will also draw from resources generated by the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Network, a group of nonprofit organizations pursuing scientific challenges on 10- to 15-year timelines, and the Chan Zuckerberg Institute for Advanced Biological Imaging, a research center for imaging technologies.

“A.I. models could predict how an immune cell responds to an infection, what happens at the cellular level when a child is born with a rare disease or even how a patient’s body will respond to a new medication,” said Chan in a statement.

In a Facebook reel, Zuckerberg noted that he is “really optimistic” about A.I.’s potential to cure all diseases. This has long been a goal of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which was founded in 2015 to celebrate the birth of Zuckerberg and Chan’s first child. The duo pledged 99 percent of their Facebook shares toward the philanthropic venture, which funds disease research, education improvement and community needs. A year later, the organization announced it would invest at least $3 billion over the next decade toward eradicating all disease.

A.I.-powered biomedicine is a core focus of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Artificial intelligence is frequently a cornerstone of CZI’s research projects. For example, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative developed CellGuide, an interactive encyclopedia of cell types and sub-cell types that contains definitions generated by ChatGPT. And its Imaging Institute is currently prototyping a cloud-based and open-source Data Portal, which aims to use A.I. to generate automated annotations of cryo-electron tomography datasets.

The philanthropic venture’s science teams, institutes and grantees over the past seven years have worked toward building A.I. systems to study cells, “laying the groundwork to leverage large-scale datasets for A.I. to predict cell types and states from the genome,” said Chan in a recent blog post. And in an MIT Technology Review essay written by Zuckerberg and Chan, the couple revealed that these datasets have since led to discoveries including the identification of the respiratory cells most vulnerable to Covid-19 and a cell type related to the broken gene linked to cystic fibrosis.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has additionally supported the development of A.I.-powered biomedical technologies through financial contributions, such as its 2022 grant of more than $1.4 million to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory to help develop A.I.-driven data acquisition, among other projects. But the philanthropic organization’s most notable donation to A.I. occurred in December of 2021 when Zuckerberg and Chan pledged $500 million to Harvard over the next 15 years to found the Kemper Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence, which will examine how intelligence works in biological and artificial systems.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Is Building a Powerful Computing Cluster to Fight Disease With AI