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ESBIC-D - European Systems Biology Initiative combating complex diseases

Primary targets of the Sixth Framework programme are activities for the combat of multigenic complex diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart diseases and diseases of the nervous system. In particular, cancer is, after decades of research, still a devastating disease, responsible for roughly one quarter of the death in Europe. Cancer is clearly one of the most urgent problems we are facing, and will therefore have to have a very high priority, due to the large number of death it is responsible for, the enormous human suffering caused by this disease, but also by the enormous health care and other costs associated with it. While progress has been made in the treatment of rare childhood cancers, little progress has been made in the treatment of the common forms of cancer, responsible for most of the death toll (Leaf, 2004). Even highly successful new anticancer drugs like Herceptin or Glivec are successfully used for only a fraction of patients with individual characteristics.

Essentially, the three main causes for cancer are infection, environmental influence and genetic predisposition. However, on a more analytical and molecular level the ontogeny of cancer is less evident and both clinical as well as basic research suggests that cancer is the result of an accumulation of many factors that promote tumour growth and metastasis (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2000). Consequently, it is not clear, if much of current cancer research, typically focussed on analysing subprocesses involving at most a few genes or gene products at a time, will ever be able to ‘understand’ such a complex phenomenon, and to form the basis for dramatic improvements in cancer treatment. It is also clear, that the current research approaches, in spite of all successes in some areas, have not resulted in any dramatic increase in the rates of cure for most common cancers.

It is the goal of this coordination action (CA) to establish a European framework for a systems biology approach to combat complex diseases using cancer as a prototypical problem. The coordination action will be fundamentally based on existing resources of leading research groups in Europe. It unites groups with a strong clinical focus, with experience in high throughput functional genomics as well as with computational and systems biology resources. Moreover, it brings together groups from some of the largest European cancer research organisations and centres.

The CA has a strong content integration component. We will combine and integrate existing data resources from the consortium partners and screen the different heterogeneous data resources after key components. The analysis of discrepancies and coherencies in the data sources will lead to new insights and give a comprehensive overview for the relevant biological objects. Furthermore, we will set up a cancer-relevant model repository consisting of known pathways and gene regulatory networks associated with cancer, the role of specific mutations or other changes in key genes/gene products in these pathways, and, as far as available, detailed clinical data with special emphasis on the influence of different anti-cancer drugs on these pathways.

In this CA we will furthermore identify important test cases that combine experimental and clinical data with theoretical models and that will guide further analyses and approaches of the participating groups, including, for example, in silico models of cancer-related (e.g. signalling) pathways analysing particularly the feedback of theoretical models and experimental data and the construction of a complete human metabolic network in order to test responses to drugs and chemical treatments.

The project aims to create a network of leading groups in the field of cancer research, genomics, proteomics and computational biology and to strengthen the expertise and research infrastructure in Europe. Moreover, it will provide the basis to develop and coordinate activities that will provide opportunities for improving health, training and the generation of commercial spin offs and will foster new technologies within the social and cultural framework of Europe. Groups in the network will be involved in:

  • collection and provision of biomolecular and clinical information for cancer
  • collection and implementation of computational models of cancer-relevant processes
  • identification of relevant and crucial parameters for future systems biology approaches to cancer
  • training and outreach to groups which can benefit from the work of the consortium

The major added-value of ESBIC-D to the European scientific community is to provide the necessary groundwork for the integration and dissemination of essential parts of SB initiatives to tackle cancer. In particular, the strong interaction of clinical and experimental data with theoretical computer modelling can only be achieved in an interdisciplinary and international approach. The goals will be achieved via a series of steps:

  • designing the protocols needed for rapid data and information exchange for the different levels of cellular information
  • connecting leading European research groups in a consortium that contributes existing data and computational resources and links clinical and experimental groups with computational groups
  • providing standards and protocols to combine the data resources with theoretical models
  • providing documentation and a series of workshops to achieve the largest possible benefit for European cancer research.

These interaction points between the different expertises build the basis for measurable and verifiable targets of the project that will have a high impact on future planning and design of systems biology approaches for all complex genetic diseases.

For more information, questions, etc. contact: Ralf Herwig

Created by elisabeth
Last modified 2005-11-30 02:10 PM
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MPIMG Berlin
Elisabeth Maschke-Dutz
Christoph Wierling
Ralf Herwig