In a Science Policy Briefing released today by the European Science Foundation, the scientists provide a detailed strategy for the application of systems biology to medical research over the coming years.
Systems biology is a rapidly advancing field that combines empirical, mathematical and computational techniques to gain understanding of complex biological and physiological phenomena. For example, dozens, or even hundreds, of proteins can be involved in signalling processes that ensure the proper functioning of a cell. If such a signalling network is disturbed in any way, diseases such as cancer and diabetes can result.
Conventional approaches of biology do not have the capacity to unravel these elaborate webs of interactions, which is why drug design often fails. Simply knocking out one target molecule in a biochemical pathway is turning out to be a flawed strategy for drug design, because cells are able to find alternative routes. It is a similar scenario to setting up a roadblock: traffic will grind to a standstill for a short time, but soon motorists will start turning around and using side-roads to get to their destination. Just as the network of roads allows alternative routes to be used, the network of biochemical pathways can enable a disease to by-pass a drug.
Systems biology is now shedding light on these complex phenomena by producing detailed route maps of the subcellular networks. These will make it possible for scientists to develop smarter therapeutic strategies - for example by disrupting two or three key intersections on a biochemical network. This could lead to significant advances in the treatment of disease and help with the shrinking pipeline of pharmaceutical companies using traditional reductionist approaches to drug discovery.
The new policy document, produced by the Life Sciences and Medical Sciences units of the Strasbourg-based European Science Foundation (ESF) calls for a co-ordinated strategy towards systems biology across Europe. The scientists have pinpointed several key disease areas that are ripe for a systems biology approach. These include cancer and diabetes, inflammatory diseases and disorders of the central nervous system.
The report's authors state that the recommendations outlined in the Science Policy Briefing provide a more specific, practical guide towards achieving major breakthroughs in biomedical systems biology, thereby covering issues that had not been previously addressed in sufficient detail. In particular we identify and outline the necessary steps of promoting the creation of pivotal biomedical systems biology tools and facilitating their translation into crucial therapeutic advances.
The report highlights some recent successes where mathematical modelling has played a key role. The conclusions from these examples are that success was achieved when quantitative data became available; that even simple mathematical models can be of practical use and that the interdisciplinary process leading to the formulation of a model is in itself of intrinsic value.
This Science Policy Briefing is the contribution of the ESF to the EC funded Specific Support Action entitled "Advancing Systems Biology for Medical Applications" (SSA LSSG-CT-2006-037673). The recommendations resulted from ten workshops, in which more than 110 acknowledged experts from across Europe participated.
The report's authors believe that, if this document succeeds in prodding European institutions into supporting systems biology, the implementation of the recommendations presented will propel Europe to the forefront of research in systems biology and, in particular, help this interdisciplinary field to fulfil its promise of making a reality of personalised medicine, combinatorial therapy, shortened drug discovery and development, better targeted clinical trials and reduced animal testing.
Thomas Lau | alfa
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy