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WIREs Syst Biol Med

Systems biology and the future of medicine

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Contemporary views of human disease are based on simple correlation between clinical syndromes and pathological analysis dating from the late 19th century. Although this approach to disease diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment has served the medical establishment and society well for many years, it has serious shortcomings for the modern era of the genomic medicine that stem from its reliance on reductionist principles of experimentation and analysis. Quantitative, holistic systems biology applied to human disease offers a unique approach for diagnosing established disease, defining disease predilection, and developing individualized (personalized) treatment strategies that can take full advantage of modern molecular pathobiology and the comprehensive data sets that are rapidly becoming available for populations and individuals. In this way, systems pathobiology offers the promise of redefining our approach to disease and the field of medicine. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2011 3 619–627 DOI: 10.1002/wsbm.144

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Figure 1.

The human systems biology universe. Human systems comprise molecular and phenotypic networks, which are related to, but distinct from, each other, as indicated by the separate linked ovals. The human disease‐ome represents a collection of subnetworks, the disease modules, which are identified by one of two strategies, the molecular network‐based strategy or the functional and structural similarity‐based strategy. The assembly of disease modules into the disease‐ome can be determined by bioinformatics‐based approaches—the shared gene formalism, the shared metabolic pathway formalism, or the disease comorbidity formalism—or by laboratory‐based experimentation.

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Blanche Capel

Blanche Capel

earned her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and has been at Duke University since 1993. She earned her endowed professorship, the James B. Duke Professor of Cell Biology, for the meaningful discoveries she has made since her postdoctoral work in genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research in London. The broad goal of the research in Dr. Capel’s laboratory is to characterize the cellular and molecular basis of morphogenesis – how the body forms. She uses gonadal (gender/sex) development in the mouse as her model system and investigates a gene she helped discover, Sry, the male sex determining gene. Gonad development is unique in that a single rudimentary tissue can be induced to form one of two different organs, an ovary or testis, and she is learning all she can about this central mystery of biology.

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