December 20, 2012

Progress in Chemical Systems Biology

The Journal of Cancer Research has just published the proceedings of the American Association of Cancer Research Special Conference on Chemical Systems Biology. Held in Boston on June 27-30, 2012, and co-organized by Andrea Califano (Columbia University), Stuart Schreiber (Broad Institute), and Pamela Silver (Harvard Medical School), the conference spotlighted new opportunities in cancer research that are developing at the interface between chemical biology and systems biology.

Chemical systems biology has emerged as a discipline within the last few years as a result of the increasing availability of genome-wide regulatory models and the ability to perform genome-wide chemical perturbation assays. Combining these tools is enabling researchers to elucidate network-based mechanisms of tumorigenesis and disease progression in highly targeted ways. Using high-throughput technologies to rapidly compare the effects of chemical perturbations in cells with different genomic features, investigators can begin to isolate those features that play important roles in disease. This new approach is helping to identify potential new therapeutic targets for diagnosing and treating disease, as well as information about drug mechanisms of action, drug interactions, and drug synergies that could not have been found using other available methods.

The conference featured sessions on chemical biology and cancer, genome-wide sh/siRNA screening, integrative chemical and systems biology, interrogation of pathways using small molecules, approaches for sensing and perturbing pathways, recent work to study signaling pathways, and synthetic chemical biology. The final session focused on the Library of Integrated Network-Based Cellular Signatures (LINCS), a collaborative, multi-institutional project organized by the National Institutes of Health that is designed to leverage the new capabilities offered by chemical systems biology. Researchers at Columbia University and at other institutions are working to systematically identify and categorize the molecular signatures that result when cells are exposed to agents that perturb their normal function. As this information becomes available, it is being compiled into an open access database that will enable the scientific community to improve network models of disease. Learn more about the Columbia Initiative in Systems Biology's contributions to LINCS.