The Wyss Institute researchers thought they could do better by spotting new genes that drive breast cancer and developing targeted genetic therapies to block them. First they had to identify the culprit genes among the thousands that are active in a cell at any moment. Molecular biologists typically convict these culprits through guilt by association; for example, when looking for cancer-causing genes, they search for individual genes that become active as cancer develops. But because genes in cells work in complex networks, that approach has led to some false convictions, with innocent genes being fingered for crimes they did not commit.
To improve the odds of finding the real culprits, Ingber teamed up with Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Jim Collins, Ph.D., a systems biology expert who has developed a sophisticated mathematical and computational method to reverse-engineer bacterial gene networks. Collins is a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the William F. Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University, where he leads the Center of Synthetic Biology.
First, Hu Li, Ph.D. a former Wyss Institute postdoctoral fellow who is now an Assistant Professor of Systems Pharmacology at the Mayo Clinic, honed the computational network to work for the first time on the more complex gene networks of mice and humans. The refined method helped the scientists spot more than 100 genes that acted suspiciously just before milk-duct cells in the breast begin to overgrow. The team narrowed their list down to six genes that turn other genes on or off, and then narrowed it further to a single gene called
|Contact: Dan Ferber|
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard