Systems medicine – the future approach to diseases – University of Copenhagen

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05 October 2016

Systems medicine – the future approach to diseases

Systems Medicine

In his review in the acknowledged journal Nature professor and pioneer in the field of bioinformatics, Søren Brunak, gives a unique insight into how we, in the future, can acquire knowledge on our body and the mechanisms that make us ill.

Systems medicine is a new interdisciplinary research area which is gaining ground in medical science. Long story short the purpose of the research is to investigate the systems that form the foundation for the development of diseases. The research looks at the body as a whole and considers a large number of factors from biochemistry and reprofiling to influences from lifestyle and environment when trying to map out the entire pathological picture.

Systems medicine is a new and modern way of understanding diseases. Traditionally, medical science has focused exclusively on one disease and for example tried to connect it to a specific gene. Systems medicine focuses on the entire pathological picture. In order to make this possible it is necessary to have an overall approach to the patient where all of the things that could influence the disease pattern is mapped out: genes, molecular and biochemical circumstances, environment, background, lifestyle and physical condition. All of these data combined give a more adequate picture of the systems that trigger diseases – this can either be one isolated disease or several diseases occurring with the same patient.

Better insight in the behaviour of the disease
The systematic approach is especially necessary when working with chronically ill patients where doctors might have difficulties in diagnosing, mapping out and treating several overlapping diseases. If a patient has a number of diseases at once, it can be difficult to determine the source of the disease. It is also challenging to find out whether or not there is a main disease which is causing the development of the other diseases, or if there are any other underlying common factors that trigger the diseases. The systematic approach can be helpful in clarifying whether the diseases have a common cause and map out the mechanism and course of the disease.

Treatmentwise it is beneficial to shed some light on the course of the disease. If you succeed in separating the common causes and the complications it is possible to concentrate the treatment more efficiently and to avoid treating in vain. We need insight into the behaviour of the disease and we can acquire that by using the large amount of data available about each specific patient. That is one of the fundamental ideas within the area.

SUND is leading within systems medicine
Today, SUND is one of the leading institutions of research working goal oriented with systems medicine. That is possible because we have the resources to do so: we have the most talented scientists, the best technique and the financial capacity. Professor Søren Brunak, who is also the man behind the previously mentioned review, is one of the pioneers within bioinformatics and is working determinately with systems biology and systems medicine.

Today we have access to the data required to work with systematic medicine. No more than 50 years ago it was not normal to gather data to the extent we do now. Today we have the possibility and the technology to help us collect, save and analyse data. At the same time, it is possible to save molecular data which can help us sequence human DNA.

Furthermore, we have the financial capability of working with such large amounts of data. A few years ago it cost 20 billion DKK to gene sequence a human. Today it costs 10.000 DKK.

Søren Brunak’s contact information:
E-mail: soren.brunak@cpr.ku.dk, Telephone: +45 20 67 24 77