European Science Foundation policy brief on systems biology

12 January 2009

The Life and Medical Sciences unit of the European Science Foundation (ESF) has released a science policy briefing on systems biology (see press release). The briefing: Advancing Systems Biology for Medical Applications, provides a detailed strategy for the application of systems biology to medical research. Systems biology is a dynamic, interdisciplinary field that combines mathematical and computational modelling techniques together with experimental data from a variety of sources (e.g. genomics, proteomics, metabolomics etc.) in order to gain a better understanding of biological phenomena. This field can contribute to our understanding of complex diseases by shedding light on how various biological pathways interact.

The document produced by the ESF gives a background to how systems biology is contributing to our knowledge of disease and provides recommendations and steps needed for the integration of systems biology into different areas of medical research. In particular, recommendations have been made relating to research in the fields of cancer, diabetes, inflammatory disease and central nervous system disorders. The authors identify specific areas where a systems biology approach could be applied in each field. For example, in the field of cancer research, the authors recommend that studies should be carried out on well-characterised and important cancers such as colorectal cancer; they also recommend the funding of projects that incorporate data from animal and cell models of disease as well as human samples. In addition, recommendations have been made on how data can be generated for advanced modelling in systems biology and the how dynamic modelling can be facilitated through standardisation and cooperative research. This is an important aspect if systems biology is to advance, as the production of mathematical models requires high quality data as well as the development of appropriate tools for their generation. 

The recommendations are aimed at providing more specific and practical guides to achieving breakthroughs in biomedical systems biology. The authors believe that if they are implemented it will “will help systems biology to fulfil its promise in making a reality of personalized medicine, combinatorial therapy, shortened drug discovery and development, better targeted clinical trials, reduced and even alternatives to animal testing. and call for a co-ordinated strategy towards systems biology across Europe.



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