News

Andrea Califano
Andrea Califano identifies 'master regulators' of cancer cells. (Credit: Tim Lee Photographers)

Genomics has revolutionized cancer research. Conventional classifications of disease, in terms of which organs and tissues it affects, are being divided into subtypes defined by the specific mutations that drive the disease. Some argue, however, that the impact on cancer care has not lived up to expectations. “Only about 5–10% of cancer patients derive any benefit from targeted therapy using genetics, and almost all of them eventually relapse,” says Andrea Califano , Dr, chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “The number that are actually cured is extremely small.”

Developing a genetically targeted therapy is no easy task. It can be tricky to identify which genetic mutations are driving the cancer and which are passengers — those that are statistically linked, but that do not cause cancer. And although developers of targeted therapies focus mainly on mutations to a subset of genes called oncogenes, there is more to malignancy. Read the full Nature Outlook article here

Mohammed AlQuraishi, PhD

The Department of Systems Biology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center is pleased to welcome new faculty member, Mohammed AlQuraishi , PhD, effective Sept. 21. Dr. AlQuraishi joins Columbia as an assistant professor and as a member of Columbia’s Program for Mathematical Genomics. 

Prior to joining Columbia, Dr. AlQuraishi served as a fellow of systems pharmacology and systems biology at Harvard Medical School. He completed his PhD in genetics and master’s in statistics from Stanford University. At Santa Clara University, he earned two bachelor’s degrees in biology and in computer engineering. 

A Bay Area transplant via Baghdad and Kuala Lumpur, Dr. AlQuraishi spent most of his teenage years in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving to the east coast for postdoctoral work. Influenced by the dot-com boom of the early 2000s in the Bay Area, Dr. AlQuraishi founded two startups in the mobile computing space before focusing on a career in academia. His circuitous path to systems biology and academic research ultimately blended his genuine interest and expertise in computer programming, mathematics, molecular biology, and science more broadly.

“What drew me to biology is its similarity to software, the fact that cells are always executing a sort of program," he says. "And just like programs, cells are more than a parts list—they are complex and interconnected in myriad ways. To tame this complexity we need synthesis, and that is the promise and challenge of systems biology.”

One of the immune system’s oldest branches, called complement, may be influencing the severity of COVID disease, according to a new study from Drs. Sagi Shapira and Nicholas Tatonetti at the Department of Systems Biology.

Drs. Sagi Shapira (right) and Nick Tatonetti
Drs. Nicholas Tatonetti (left) and Sagi Shapira

Among other findings linking complement to COVID, the researchers found that people with age-related macular degeneration—a disorder caused by overactive complement—are at greater risk of developing severe complications and dying from COVID.

The connection with complement suggests that existing drugs that inhibit the complement system could help treat patients with severe COVID-19.

The study was published in Nature Medicine . For the full article , visit the Columbia University Irving Medical Center Newsroom. 

Xuebing Wu, PhD, has been selected as a Pew-Stewart Scholar for his innovative approaches to cancer research.

The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust named five early-career researchers to its prestigious Pew-Stewart Scholars Program for cancer research. This talented class of scholars will receive four years of funding to advance groundbreaking research into the development, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. As a Pew-Stewart scholar, Dr. Wu will investigate the dysregulation of messenger RNA structure in the development of breast cancer.

Dr. Wu, who joined Columbia University in the fall of 2018, is an assistant professor of medical sciences in the Departments of Systems Biology and Medicine. Read the full article here

Sagi Shapira,PhD, assistant professor of systems biology at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons and Nicholas Tatonetti, PhD, associate professor of bioinformatics and of systems biology at VP&S, have recently been awarded a new pilot grant to support their collaboration in COVID-19 research.

Drs. Shapira and Tatonetti are one of three teams who have been awarded a COVID-19 research pilot grant from the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. The pair will work on accurately identifying pathophysiological factors that modulate SARS-CoV-2 infection and explain variability in disease outcomes.

Read the full article here