A cellular roadmap for medical researchers

Jan 06, 2011
A cellular roadmap for medical researchers
A new paper from Northeastern researcher Albert-Laszlo Barabasi reviews network medicine and its potential to help cure disease. Credit: iStock photo

(PhysOrg.com) -- Advances in network science to map the complexity of human cells promises to offer significant new resources for health professionals striving to cure disease, according to a new paper coauthored by Albert-László Barabási, a world-renowned network scientist at Northeastern University.

The paper, published in the January issue of Nature Reviews Genetics, presents the first major overview of the current state of network medicine and what lies ahead in taking a network-based approach to identifying and battling disease.

“I really think the future of medicine will, to a certain degree, depend on obtaining and understanding the diagram that controls the interactions between the molecules in the cell,” said Barabási, Distinguished Professor of Physics and director of Northeastern’s Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR). The study advances Northeastern’s research mission to solve societal issues, with a focus on global challenges in health, security, and sustainability.

Understanding cellular networks could help identify new disease genes and pathways, and reveal the biological significance of mutations associated with disease, according to the paper. As a result, better disease-targeting drugs could be developed, while biomarkers could improve how diseases are classified and how cellular networks ravaged by disease are monitored.

Barabási said this network-based approach compares to how a mechanic fixes a car. For instance, a car’s power failure could stem from a faulty battery, a broken cable or a blown fuse. So the mechanic first turns to the wiring diagram of the car to identify the cause of the problem.

“In order to fix a car problem, you need to have a map of the network, and in a way, this is not different for diseases,” Barabási said. “You need to find and understand the underlying network behind the disease, and that will eventually lead to a cure.”

The paper follows up on a 2004 article Barabási coauthored for the same journal, which explored network biology and the inner workings of human . That paper is the second-most cited article in the history of the journal. Since then, network scientists have improved their grasp on the laws that govern networks and started applying that knowledge in significant ways, such as facilitating new treatments for disease.

However, Barabási said it would take time for medical advances to catch up.

“The thinking behind it is this: the cell is like a map of Boston,” Barabási explained. “What is happening now is that we’ve started to simply find the neighborhood where individual diseases are, so we are starting to be able to associate certain regions of the cell with particular diseases.”

Barabási, the lead author, collaborated on the paper with Natali Gulbahce, a former postdoctoral research fellow at CCNR, and Joseph Loscalzo, chair of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Department of Medicine and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Explore further: Bioethicists use theatrical narratives to bridge the gap between society and science

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Northeastern researchers made the call on 'zombie virus'

Nov 16, 2010

Northeastern University researchers predicted last year that major Smartphone viruses will become a real threat to devices such as Blackberrys and iPhones once a particular operating system approaches a 10 perc ...

Doing the math on where people go

Sep 15, 2010

Network scientists at Northeastern University have created a mathematical model that can simulate human mobility over the course of several months or even years.

Recommended for you

Classifying sequence variants in human disease

17 hours ago

Sequencing an entire human genome is faster and cheaper than ever before, leading to an explosion of studies comparing the genomes of people with and without a given disease. Often clinicians and researchers studying genetic ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

The federal government wants to prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Rising role seen for health education specialists

(HealthDay)—A health education specialist can help family practices implement quality improvement projects with limited additional financial resources, according to an article published in the March/April ...

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.