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Systems biology brings hope of speeding up drug development
Date:11/19/2008

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 confere
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Contact: Roel van Driel
r.vandriel@uva.nl
31-205-255-150
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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