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At PAG, Lee Hood Touts Systems Bio's Promise of 'P4' Medicine

SAN DIEGO (GenomeWeb News) – Institute for Systems Biology head Lee Hood this week said that systems bio is poised to form the foundation for a new type of medicine that he has dubbed "predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory," or P4.

Hood, speaking at the Plant and Animal Genomes conference here this week, said he envisions a future in which individuals will have bi-annual blood tests for screening a host of informative markers that will then be compared with their own results over time rather than with data drawn from a random population.

"The essence of personalized medicine is that you're going to be your own control for distinguishing health from disease," Hood said. "We hope to be able … to give patients the ability to play a much more important role in their own treatment."

Hood said he believes such an approach, which he said could sideline traditional reactive health care, will be implemented in the foreseeable future and enabled by technologies such as high-throughput DNA sequencing, targeted mass spectrometry, microfluidic protein chips, and single-cell analyses, among other things.

During his PAG presentation, Hood said his team used prion disease as an example and compared the transcriptomes of diseased and normal mice from eight inbred mouse stains over time has enabled his team to pull out virtually all of the prion-related genes already identified by histopathology, as well as several new genes.

"The foundation of systems biology is thinking of biology as an informational science," Hood said during the conference. "There are two types of biological information: the digital information embedded in the genome and the environmental information that impinges on it."

But, he emphasized, high-throughput analyses alone would not have been as effective without an understanding of mouse and prion biology.

"High-throughput information without a deep understanding of biology will always get you in trouble because you don't know what's signal and what's noise," Hood said. "The reason we found the dark genes of prion disease is we did global studies."

Bringing the same approach to human diseases could uncover markers in the blood that might allow physicians to diagnose and stratify a disease and then monitor how it responds to treatment, Hood said. Because the blood bathes organs in the body, it can also yield organ-specific transcripts that can be used as blood molecular fingerprints, he added.

But such a transition won't happen overnight. Hood cautioned that implementing P4 medicine will require an overhaul of the health-care field at every level, from the information technology required for patient-data storage and analysis to patient and physician education to health insurance and drug-discovery methods.

Hood noted that he has already prepared a summary of P4 medicine for President-elect Barack Obama's transition team.

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