Delivering on the promise of Network Medicine: a UK, Austrian and Australian collaboration

20/02/2017
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Until we work out how to get a range of scientific disciplines all working together, just doing more science is not necessarily going to deliver on the outcomes as promised by ‘network medicine’, according to a paper co-authored by University of Melbourne Associate Professor and EMBL-ABR Deputy Director, Vicky Schneider and recently published Integrative Biology.  

Co-authored with Dr Tamas Korcsmaros of the Earlham Institute (EI) and the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in the UK and Professor Giulio Superti-Furga of the CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria, the paper, Next Generation of Network Medicine: Interdisciplinary Signalling Approaches, argues that truly multidisciplinary approaches, requiring a combination of computational and biological domain-specific knowledge and techniques, remains a challenge for medicine. The authors set about trying to address this by reviewing the literature, looking for new opportunities for combining disciplines to further promote the impact of network medicine and advising on some best practices for researchers aiming to deliver successful multidisciplinary projects in network medicine.

The authors tested this by running a five-day interdisciplinary signalling workshop bringing together, in an environment designed to promote informal interpersonal interactions, experts from a wide range of backgrounds (in silico modellers, computational biologists, biochemists, geneticists, molecular and cell biologists as well as cancer biologists and pharmacologists). Participants discussed the state-of-the-art in their respective fields and early stage researchers presented their projects, research questions and large-scale experiments. Experimentalists were asked to submit a key problem that required interdisciplinary approaches, and the problem was discussed in subgroups led by senior scientists with specific relevant expertise.

As with all things in the ‘new biology’, attending scientific meetings, networking as well as gaining general methodological understanding of each other’s discipline is essential establish successful interdisciplinary teams. Institutions which actively facilitate opportunities for postgraduate (and above) life science bench researchers to learn enough about computation so they may formulate precise questions that can be tackled computationally, will be the ones who stay ahead in this fast-moving field.

The challenge remains: each discipline is becoming more specialised and technical, and researchers within those disciplines are usually competing for decreasing research funds through stretched funding bodies which are not well set up for evaluating multi-disciplinary projects.

Vicky and Tamas were very pleased to be working with Giulio Superti-Furga on this paper as his pioneering work has directly contributed to a systems-level understanding of pathogen infections in host cells and of the mechanism of action of specific drugs and he is also a keen advocate for the adoption of systems biology approaches for medicine, in particular for drug discovery: working on building bridges between basic research and the clinical world.

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The Paper was published online on 16 January 2017, DOI: 10.1039/C6IB00215C.

Author associations:

Tamas Korcsmaros, Earlham Institute (EI); Norwich Research Park; Norwich, UK and Gut Health and Food Safety Programme; Institute of Food Research; Norwich Research Park; Norwich, UK

About Earlham Institute (EI)

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) – £6.45M in 2015/2016 – as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation. EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.
@EarlhamInst

Maria Victoria Schneider, EMBL Australia Bioinformatics Resource and University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Giulio Superti-Furga, CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria and Center for Physiology and Pharmacology, Medical University of Vienna, Austria.