Common diseases, such as Alzheimer, arthritis, diabetes, migraine and depression pose major healthcare problems. Such diseases are caused by a complex network of factors; age, gender and lifestyle play a role in addition to a patient's genes.
The complexity of common diseases is further increased by the fact that they often interact. At first glance there seems to be no relationship between depression and migraine, diabetes and cancer, or high cholesterol and Alzheimer. Yet we increasingly find hidden connections between these diseases, suggesting the existence of common pathways or biological master switches that underlie multiple clinical outcomes.
The main aim of the Centre for Medical Systems Biology (CMSB) is to elucidate this connectivity. In addition, rare forms of these diseases, often with more clear-cut genetic causes, are studied as model systems to develop mechanistic insights, better prognostics and targeted therapies. By combining these approaches, CMSB optimises its mission to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of common and rare diseases.
Identify hidden connections between common diseases
CMSB uses a “systems biology” approach, integrating genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics to establish the
genetic and molecular relationship between apparently diverse disorders. The approach combines advanced DNA, RNA, protein and metabolite analysis of different epidemiological cohorts and uses state-of-the-art genomics technology and extensive biobank data.
The systems biology approach reveals biomarker patterns that will provide insight into the processes and pathways in our cells. These
pathways are crucial to understanding the initiation and progression of a disease. Disruption of pathways often causes clinically different diseases in different people. This is partly caused by variations in our DNA sequence, partly by differences in our immunity and partly by differences in lifestyle and life events. By connecting clinical outcomes with and molecular patterns amongst large groups of patients and healthy individuals, characteristic differences and relationships are demonstrated.
New insights, better therapies
The CMSB research programme focuses on he following diseases: Alzheimer, arthritis, depression, migraine and metabolic syndrome. The main objective is to identify genes and mechanisms involved in the development of disease, new targets for diagnosis, prognosis and treatment, and common determinants that link diverse diseases.
CMSB aims to translate its findings into clinically actionable healthcare improvements, either directly in participating institutions, or by providing biotech companies and the pharmaceutical industry with new insights to develop better therapies. At the same time, research into connectivity is likely to show that existing medicines can be used for diseases different from those for which they were initially developed. In the light of the high cost of drug development, this second or even third use of medicines is becoming increasingly valuable. Therapy development implies the design of methods to alter biology in the cell or in the organism. As rare diseases often have more defined biological disturbances, their inclusion in our study portfolio has the dual advantage of offering a track to their therapy and delivering well-defined models to alter biology and cure complex diseases.
Centre for Medical Systems Biology factsheet