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Cloudy with a chance of sudden death
Date:10/20/2011

HOUSTON -- (Oct. 20, 2011) -- Bioengineers from Rice University and physicians from Emory University are going to test whether a new "law of biology" can predict when a critically ill patient is about to worsen, and more importantly, which treatment is likely to prevent it.

"We want to arm doctors with a forecasting tool," said Rice's Michael Deem, the principal investigator on a new $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "To forecast the weather, meteorologists use the laws of physics and observed data from the atmosphere. Our idea is similar. We plan to use a law of biology and observed data from a patient -- like an electrocardiogram (EKG) -- to predict what's about to happen to that patient."

The new study stems from research Deem began in 2005 as part of a 20-investigator team funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's FunBio program. The goal of that project was to find fundamental laws of biology -- similar to the physical laws of motion that were discovered by Isaac Newton in the 1600s.

Deem, the John W. Cox Professor of Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy, found a likely candidate for a biological law of nature in 2007. Like Newton's second law and Einstein's law of relativity, Deem's 2007 law is represented as an equation with just three variables. Written PE=M'/R, Deem's equation describes the relationship between a system's structural complexity, or modularity (M'), and its ability to thrive (R) in the face of environmental stress (PE).

"Modularity is a selected trait because it allows a system -- be it a gene, a cell, an organ or a whole ecosystem -- to adapt to a changing environment," said Deem, an investigator at Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative. "The more modular a system, the greater its ability to withstand environmental stress."

The idea of developing individualized health forecasts -- like those planned fo
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Contact: Jade Boyd
jadeboyd@rice.edu
713-348-6778
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert  

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