A cellular roadmap for medical researchers

January 6, 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.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study reveals an ancient Achilles heel in the human genome

September 21, 2017
In a major study published today, researchers at deCODE genetics use whole-genome data from 14,000 people from across the population of Iceland, including 1500 sets of parents and children, to provide the most detailed portrait ...

Forgotten strands of DNA initiate the development of immune cells

September 21, 2017
Intricate human physiological features such as the immune system require exquisite formation and timing to develop properly. Genetic elements must be activated at just the right moment, across vast distances of genomic space.

Genome editing reveals role of gene important for human embryo development

September 20, 2017
Researchers have used genome editing technology to reveal the role of a key gene in human embryos in the first few days of development. This is the first time that genome editing has been used to study gene function in human ...

A piece of the puzzle: Eight autism-related mutations in one gene

September 19, 2017
Scientists have identified a hotspot for autism-related mutations in a single gene.

Scientists identify key regulator of male fertility

September 19, 2017
When it comes to male reproductive fertility, timing is everything. Now scientists are finding new details on how disruption of this timing may contribute to male infertility or congenital illness.

New assay leads to step toward gene therapy for deaf patients

September 18, 2017
Scientists at Oregon State University have taken an important step toward gene therapy for deaf patients by developing a way to better study a large protein essential for hearing and finding a truncated version of it.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.