Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Systems biology brings hope of speeding up drug development

19.11.2008
Almost every day brings news of an apparent breakthrough against cancer, infectious diseases, or metabolic conditions like diabetes, but these rarely translate into effective therapies or drugs, and even if they do clinical development usually takes well over a decade.

One reason is that medical research is conducted in highly fragmented groups focusing on specific pathways or components leading to drugs that turn out not to work properly or to have dangerous side effects after cycles of animal and then clinical testing in humans.

This process is expensive and wasteful, resulting from the fact that at present researchers lack tools to assess in advance how candidate drugs work across the human's whole biological system. The discipline of systems biology represents an attempt to unite the medical research community behind a common approach to understanding and modelling the complex interactions of the human, leading to more effective and faster drug development.

Europe is now at the forefront of this growing movement that brings together a number of disciplines including mathematics, physics, statistics, bioinformatics, genetics and all the "omics" technologies dealing with genes, proteins, and biological pathways. Earlier this year leading specialists in systems biology met at an important conference organised jointly by the European Science Foundation and the University of Barcelona, providing a snapshot of current progress and a roadmap for future research.

The conference provided a platform to direct and accelerate other ongoing programmes in which the emerging tools of systems biology are being applied to specific areas of medicine, notably the SBMS (Systems Biology to combat Metabolic Syndrome) initiative. Metabolic syndrome is the term for various conditions that can lead to diseases such as type 2 diabetes where cells of the body develop resistance against insulin, impairing the regulation of blood glucose levels. The aim of SBMS is to understand the molecular and cellular systems that underlie risk factors associated with various diseases resulting from metabolic syndrome, by studying them at a systems wide level rather than focusing on individual specific components even when these appear to play a central role.

Yet the challenge of system biology as a whole is to integrate different components of the body at widely different scales of time and size, without being swamped by immense quantities of data, or computational models that are impossibly complex to handle, according to Roel van Driel, systems biology specialist at the University of Amsterdam, who was co-convenor of the ESF conference as well as head of the SBMS initiative. A big problem in medical research lies in duplication of effort and in particular creation of large sets of data that are difficult to share between projects, according to van Driel, who said that biology as a whole needed to become a big science, based on a stronger more analytical framework, more like physics. "The problem is not shortage of funding in medical research, but fragmentation into too many small projects," said van Driel. "We need a large-scale programme."

In fact biology has already had one large-scale programme involving focused collaboration between many projects across the world, the Human Genome Project of the 1990s. This led to a basic map of the genetic code common to all humans, although not of all the variations, or alleles, that give rise to individual differences. In fact the genome project yielded only limited information about the underlying genes and what they do, let alone how they are regulated and interact in different organs and metabolic pathways.

That is the much greater challenge of systems biology, requiring the whole organism to be broken down into manageable systems that can be linked together to make predictions such as the effect of a particular candidate drug. These systems were discussed at the ESF conference, which also highlighted progress in the important related field of synthetic biology, involving engineering of organisms such as bacteria to create novel "systems" capable of manufacturing effective drugs.

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esf.org
http://www.esf.org/activities/esf-conferences/details/2008/confdetail234.html?conf=234&year=2008

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie

nachricht Study overturns seminal research about the developing nervous system
21.04.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>