In addition to all of the other exciting news, Pamela Weintraub received a standing ovation for her very personal presentation that you can read in full here. And then the breaking news from the research team headed by and presented by Dr. Luft from Stony Brook University Medical School is covered in detail here.
Towards the end of Ms. Weintraub’s presentation, a very intriguing reference was made regarding “P4 technology” and a Dr. Leroy Hood in Seattle.
I was so amazed by the exciting possibilities of new technology presented in Ms. Weintraub’s book “Cure UnKnown” (If you haven’t read it yet you simply must stop what you are doing and get your hands on a copy as fast as humanly possible!) I quickly looked up any reference I could find to Dr. Hood and was stunned to feel as though I were being transported to a fantasy or science fiction novel.
The Institute for Systems Biology is the healthcare of the future. I will let their public relations firm describe it rather than risk misleading anyone.
Systems Biology: the 21st Century Science
Systems biology is the study of an organism, viewed as an integrated and interacting network of genes, proteins and biochemical reactions which give rise to life. Instead of analyzing individual components or aspects of the organism, such as sugar metabolism or a cell nucleus, systems biologists focus on all the components and the interactions among them, all as part of one system. These interactions are ultimately responsible for an organism’s form and functions. For example, the immune system is not the result of a single mechanism or gene. Rather the interactions of numerous genes, proteins, mechanisms and the organism’s external environment, produce immune responses to fight infections and diseases.
Systems biology emerged as the result of the genetics “catalog” provided by the Human Genome project, and a growing understanding of how genes and their resulting proteins give rise to biological form and function. The study of systems biology has been aided by the ease with which the internet allows researchers to store and distribute massive amounts of information, plus advances in powerful new research technologies, and the infusion of scientists from other disciplines, e.g. computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers.
Traditional biology – the kind most of us studied in high school and college, and that many generations of scientists before us have pursued – has focused on identifying individual genes, proteins and cells, and studying their specific functions. But that kind of biology can yield relatively limited insights about the human body.
As an analogy, if you wanted to study an automobile, and focused on identifying the engine, seat belts, and tail lights, and studied their specific functions, you would have no real understanding of how an automobile operates. More important, you would have no understanding of how to effectively service the vehicle when something malfunctions.
So too, a traditional approach to studying biology and human health has left us with a limited understanding of how the human body operates, and how we can best predict, prevent, or remedy potential health problems.
Biologists, geneticists, and doctors have had limited success in curing complex diseases such as cancer, HIV, and diabetes because traditional biology generally looks at only a few aspects of an organism at a time.
As scientists have developed the tools and technologies which allow them to delve deeper into the foundations of biological activity – genes and proteins – they have learned that these components almost never work alone.
They interact with each other and with other molecules in highly structured but incredibly complex ways, similar to the complex interactions among the countless computers on the Internet. Systems biology seeks to understand these complex interactions, as these are the keys to understanding life.
The individual function and collective interaction of genes, proteins and other components in an organism are often characterized together as an interaction network.
Indeed, understanding this interplay of an organism’s genome and environmental influences from outside the organism (nature and nurture) is crucial to developing a “systems” understanding of an organism that will ultimately transform our understanding of human health and disease.
Systems biology is still in its infancy; we are at the turning point in our understanding of what the future holds for biology and human medicine.
The Institute for Systems Biology is pioneering this rich new opportunity.
What is “P4” and how will it affect chronic Lyme disease? From Dr. Hood:
The challenges of biology are focused around three central features of life: evolution, development, and physiology.
These features operate across very different time dimensions: roughly millions of years, the lifetime of the organism, and seconds to weeks, respectively. Our laboratory is focused on a series of deep biological questions relating to these features.
- How do gene families evolve?
- How do gene regulatory networks change in evolutionary terms and operate across the developmental and physiological time dimensions to control biomodules? Biomodules are groups of proteins that execute a particular function (e.g., cell cycle or sugar utilization).
- How do innate and adaptive immune systems develop and function?
Research SEATTLE, Oct. 6, 2005 – The Seattle Neuroscience Institute (SNI) at Swedish Medical Center is preparing to enter its next phase of growth with the addition of new leading-edge facilities and three new, prominent neurosurgeons.
We have pioneered the application of discovery science and systems biology to three very different types of disease
- prostate cancer involves a loss of the regulation of cell division.
- Prion disease is caused by a misfolded protein (a prion) which
- has the ability to catalyze the misfolding of normal prions
- leads to disease by causing misfolded prions to aggulinate in nerve cells, thus killing them
- Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks cells of the pancreas.
We utilize several discovery tools for the aforementioned studies, including DNA sequencing of expressed sequence tags (EST). These are single sequence runs on individual cDNA clones and DNA array analyses of the patterns of gene expression in normal and diseased tissues. They identify gene products that are disease-specific. It appears likely that changes in the patterns of expression of selected genes can both stratify disease and the disease path progression.
Halobacterium and yeast are wonderful model organisms in which to develop the approaches to systems biology so that they can be applied to higher organisms. In these organisms, we are studying the relationships between gene regulatory networks and their control of biomodules. The sea urchin is an ideal organism for studying gene regulatory networks in development because:
- development is simple
- there exists 100 years of development experimental data
- billions of eggs can be obtained synchronously fertilized, and terminated at any stage of development
- thousands of transgenic sea urchins can be produced in an hour
- Developing an ink-jet oligonucleotide synthesizer that will synthesize oligonucleotide arrays with great flexibility in format design.
- Developing a scanning device to analyze the melting curves of oligonucleotide arrays.
- Collaborating with chemists at Caltech and the University of California Los Angeles to develop nanotechnology platforms that can capture many different data types (e.g., mRNA and protein concentrations, protein/protein and protein RNA interactions, single cell assays). Measurements will be made electronically so real time analyses are possible.
- Beginning a collaboration with a company for single molecule DNA sequencing, which over the next five years may increase the sequencing throughput by 1,000-fold or more and decrease the cost of sequencing by several 100-fold or more.
- Developing with others a display tool, Cytoscape, for graphically integrating many different global data sets (mRNA and protein concentration changes, protein/protein and protein DNA interactions.
The sea urchin also has a fascinating innate immune system with hundreds of Toll-like receptors.
The mouse is used to study hematopoietic stem cell development and adaptive immunity. The mouse is also used to study prion disease and diabetes. We have studied Type I diabetes and prostate cancer in humans. The organization and evolution of the immune T-cell receptor and major histocompatibility complex gene families have been studied comparatively in humans, mice, and pufferfish.
Features of chromosomal architecture (e.g., big genes, gene deserts) have also been studied in these animals. We are also using two similar inbred strains of mice – one contracting diabetes and the other normal – to develop a multiparameter blood assay for the onset and progression of disease (measuring changes in the mRNA concentrations of blood cells across the time span of disease onset).
This will obviously be a key technology for predictive medicine.
It is clear if you take the time to peruse the website for the Institute for Systems Biology that they are far removed from the politics regarding diagnosis and treatment of chronic Lyme disease, and focused on developing tools for the medical community of the future to use that may not only eradicate chronic Lyme disease but cancer, AIDS and many other fatal diseases.
I hope we are alive to benefit from this technology but even if we aren’t, those of us who have children or grandchildren with chronic Lyme will have hope.
Hope is always a good thing.