Crucial breakthroughs in the treatment of many common diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's could be achieved by harnessing a powerful scientific approach called systems biology, according to leading scientists from across Europe. 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 tradi
|Contact: Olaf Wolkenhauer|
European Science Foundation