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Systems Biology At AACR, Hood Sells Systems Biology, Challenges Attendees

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Lee Hood gave the first-ever Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lecture at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in April, focusing his hour-long talk on how systems biology relates to predictive, preventive, and personalized medicine.

Hood challenged the audience to get involved in what he contends is a burgeoning field of research. “The question for each one of you is, ‘What kind of role are you going to play in a landscape that is changing very rapidly?’” he said.

Hood used his time to give the audience a broad overview of the history and promise of systems biology, as well as to present some data recently generated at the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, which he founded in 2000.

“2000 was just exactly the right time to be thinking about systems biology,” said Hood, who left the University of Washington to found the institute. The basic premise of the field, he added, is to “understand the elements in a biological system and the interactions between them” using a combination of biology, technology, and computation in a cross-disciplinary scientific environment.

The key improvements to which systems biology should contribute on the disease front include using protein- or gene-expression changes for early diagnosis; stratification of disease; new approaches to drug discovery; identification of adverse effects; and better target selection, Hood said.

As an example, Hood presented some work done with prostate cancer by scientists at ISB in conjunction with Lynx Therapeutics (now Solexa) and its MPSS technology, which he described as a “digital analysis of the transcriptome.” Research into early- and late-stage prostate cancer has revealed significant and measurable differences in protein and gene regulatory networks that could theoretically be used to develop a multiparameter diagnostic panel that would assess a patient’s disease progress, he said.

Such work — potentially looking at thousands of changes in proteins — will not be possible with current technology at current pricing, Hood said. He predicted that it will take a move toward nanotechnology and microfluidics, and eventually doing work on the single-cell level, before this aspect of systems biology has a major clinical impact. To that end, his group is developing a nanotech-based method to measure gene and protein expression as well as protein-DNA and protein-protein interactions.

Hood, president of the ISB, was chosen by the AACR president and board to be the first recipient of the Irving Weinstein lecture award. After listing Hood’s accomplishments in the field of systems biology, AACR President Lynn Matrisian said, “It’s no wonder that cancer researchers are paying close attention to this [approach].”

— Meredith Salisbury

 

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