Systems Biology: a vision for engineering and medicine
A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences and The Royal Academy of Engineering
Systems Biology is a groundbreaking scientific approach that seeks to understand how all the individual components of a biological system interact in time and space to determine the
functioning of the system. It allows insight into the large amount of data from molecular biology
and genomic research, integrated with an understanding of physiology, to model the
complex function of cells, organs and whole organisms, bringing with it the potential to
improve our knowledge of health and disease.
Systems Biology has become a viable approach as a result of recent developments in the
biological sciences, systems engineering, imaging, mathematics and computing. It uses
an iterative cycle of computational modelling and laboratory experiment to understand how
the components work together in a system, a characteristic feature of Systems Biology. This
method offers a wealth of opportunities across medicine, engineering and other fields. One of
its most immediate impacts will be in the pharmaceutical sector where, by means of a
more effective drug development process, Systems Biology will bring innovative drugs to
patients more quickly and cheaply. It will be a vital tool in elucidating the many interacting
factors that contribute to the causes of common medical conditions, in the near-term
yielding important information on cardiovascular disease and liver function and, in the longer term, increasing our understanding of cancer and dementia.
Systems Biology will provide a platform for the development of Synthetic Biology: the design
and re-design of biological parts, devices and systems with applications ranging from
materials with enhanced properties to biofuels.
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