"Biologists are trained to be reductionists," adds Haigis, who was a postdoctoral associate at MIT before moving to MGH. "I don't think people have failed to realize the complexity of how biology works, but people are accustomed to trying to reduce complexity to make things more understandable."
In contrast, the systems biology approach tries to capture that complexity through computer modeling of many variables. Inputs to the model might be the amounts of certain proteins found inside cells, and outputs would be the cells' resulting behaviors for example, growing, committing suicide or secreting hormones.
While at MIT, Haigis worked in the lab of Tyler Jacks, director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, studying the role of the cancer-causing gene Ras in the mouse colon. He teamed up with Lauffenburger and others to computationally model Ras' behavior in cell culture.
After Haigis moved to MGH, he and Lauffenburger decided to bring this computational approach to studying living animals because they believed that studies done in cultured cells could miss some of the critical factors that come into play in living systems, such as the location of a cell within a living tissue and the influence of cells that surround it.
In the new paper, the researchers tackled the complex interactions that produce inflammation in the mouse intestine. The intestine contains many types of cells, but they focused on epithelial cells (which line the intestinal tube) and their response to TNF.
Previous work has shown that TNF plays a central role in intestinal inflammation, and provokes one of two possible responses in the intestinal epithelial cells: cell death or cell proliferation. Chronic inflammation can lead to inflammato
|Contact: Caroline McCall|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology