What is Systems Biology?
Recognized by most experts in the field as the future of biology, Systems Biology seeks to understand how complex living systems interact with each other so that we can diagnose and treat disorders such as cancer. While past biological research has taught us much about how these individual biological units are structured and function, future biology will be focused on understanding how these units interact.
Vision of the Center for the Study of Systems Biology
With the completion of the sequencing of the human genome, the possibility exists to unlock the secrets of life and with such understanding, powerful new approaches to the treatment of disease will emerge.
However, much like being given a parts list of a car without an instruction manual, the sequence of the human genome provides a list of about 25,000 proteins (the molecular machines of life), the functions of more than half of which are unknown. Moreover, analyzing the individual parts tells one very little about their synergistic interactions. Systems Biology seeks to understand how the components of complex living systems interact and give rise to life and how their malfunction causes disease. Since many diseases are caused by the malfunctioning of proteins, key questions are to identify which proteins are responsible for which disease and then to design drugs to treat it. To date, only about 500 of the 25,000 proteins in the human genome have been the targets of drugs, and it has been estimated that there are another 2000-2500 additional proteins in the human genome that are appropriate drug targets. Over the next decade, methods will be developed to identify many of these protein targets and new approaches that speed up the drug discovery process (which at present takes 8-10 years) will emerge. The newly formed Center for the Study of Systems Biology, CSSB directed by Jeffrey Skolnick, is poised to be a central player in this emerging revolution in biology. The goals of the CSSB are:
- In the very long term, to be able to simulate and understand how life works
- To develop and identify novel approaches to the diagnostics and treatment of diseases especially cancer
- To develop a novel parallel approach to the development of drugs
- To develop novel approaches to protein pathway engineering based on microfluidics using state of the art protein chips and biosensors
Realization of these objectives will provide a fundamental understanding of cellular pathways and enable the application of these insights both to accelerate the process of drug discovery and to engineer and control such pathways, with a particular focus being those related to Cancer. Areas emphasized include computational systems biology, proteomics, pharmacogenomics, metabolomics, epigenetics. While the research at the CSSB is very fundamental, since the practical implications are often immediate, emphasis will be placed on the rapid commercialization of the ideas and technology that is developed. By combining uniquely talented individuals with superb resources, the goal is to create a world class Center that leverages Georgia Tech’s existing superb expertise in engineering and computer science.