Latino Studies at New York University

Eric Schadt

Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology
Mount Sinai School of Medicine

February 28, 2012

Reverse Engineering Biological Systems to Construct Disease Networks

Common human diseases and drug response are complex traits that involve entire networks of changes at the molecular level driven by genetic and environmental perturbations.  Changes at the molecular level can induce changes in biochemical processes or broader molecular networks that affect cell behavior, and changes in cell behavior can affect normal tissue or whole organ function, eventually leading to pathophysiological states at the organism level that we associate with disease.  While the vast majority of previous efforts to elucidate disease and drug response traits have focused on single dimensions of the system, achieving a more comprehensive view of common human diseases requires examining living systems in multiple dimensions and at multiple scales.

Studies focused on identifying changes in DNA that correlate with changes in disease or drug response traits, changes in gene expression that correlate with disease or drug response traits, or changes in other molecular traits (e.g., metabolite, methylation status, protein phosphorylation status, and so on) that correlate with disease or drug response are fairly routine and have met with great success in many cases.  However, to further our understanding of the complex network of molecular and cellular changes that impact disease risk, disease progression, severity, and drug response, we can more formally integrate these different data dimensions.  Here I present an approach for integrating a diversity of molecular and clinical trait data to uncover models that predict complex system behavior.  By integrating diverse types of data on a large scale I demonstrate that some forms of common human diseases like diabetes are most likely the result of perturbations to specific gene networks that in turn causes changes in the states of other gene networks both within and between tissues that drive biological processes associated with disease.  These models elucidate not only primary drivers of disease and drug response, but they provide a context within which to interpret biological function, beyond what could be achieved by looking at one dimension alone.  That some forms of common human diseases are the result of complex interactions among networks has significant implications for drug discovery: designing drugs or drug combinations to impact entire network states rather than designing drugs that target specific disease associated genes.