While most researchers continue to break down disease into smaller and smaller pieces in an effort to understand how they work, systems biologists take the opposite approach by looking at how all the pieces of a system interact—be it at the level of the population, organism, tissue, or cell—and then put the pieces together. Systems biology is a conceptual framework that researchers use to further understand complex biological processes.
Intramural Research Program (IRP) scientists work to understand how and why systems exhibit properties that cannot be concluded from studies of the individual components. Systems biology is a powerful tool to test theories about health and disease, particularly the outcomes of therapeutic interventions. Understanding cancer cells at the molecular level gives one type of insight, but understanding how these malignant cells interact in an organ offers a very different viewpoint.
Systems biology often involves collaborative work between multiple disciplines, including:
During this time of great discovery, as the research community generates increasingly specific genomic and proteomic data, predicting system behavior remains elusive. The IRP is a valuable resource for those wishing to apply new insights and collaborate across disciplines.
To learn more about how systems biology is making a difference in our understanding of health and disease, visit the Systems Biology Interest Group Web site.