National Center for Systems Biology to be established at Medical College
Researchers to Create “Virtual Rat”
Aug. 11, 2011 College News - The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a five-year, $13 million grant to establish a National Center for Systems Biology.
Daniel Beard, PhD, Professor of Physiology and member of the Biotechnology and Bioengineering Center, is the principal investigator for the grant.
The first goal of the center is to create a computational model that will integrate data in the form of a virtual physiological rat to help investigators predict and understand physiological function and disease. This will fill a major gap in the understanding of the multiple genetic and environmental causes of diseases.
Researchers working on The Virtual Physiological Rat (VPR) will develop computational tools to decipher the underlying causes of diseases, including hypertension, renal disease, heart failure, and metabolic syndromes. Computer simulations will be used to translate the findings from animals to yield new information about complex disease in humans.
“Many of the most common diseases aren’t simple, and cannot be explained by a single cause or relationship,” explained Dr. Beard. “The Virtual Physiological Rat allows us to create a model for disease that takes into account the many genes and environmental factors believed to be associated. This proposal targets the grand challenge of understanding complex multi-faced diseases through experiments and simulations that capture that hugely complex relationship.”
The center will also utilize the findings of the VPR in real animal models; researchers will derive new strains of rats by developing new transgenic and knock-out strains of rat to test, validate and refine the discoveries of the virtual model. Knock-out rats are genetically engineered rats with a single gene turned off, or “knocked out,” to better understand the functions of particular genes. The first knock-out rats were developed at the Medical College in 2009.
“This new national center highlights the collaborative nature of our researchers’ work at the Medical College,” said Joseph E. Kerschner, MD, Interim Dean and Executive Vice President of the Medical College. “Understanding the mechanisms of disease could lead to better preventative and interventional interactions with patients who are at risk for developing these diseases.”
A distinct component of the national center is educational; the center will serve the research community by developing courses and workshops, training and recruiting scientists from underserved communities, and holding an annual scientific meeting to present recent findings.
Dr. Beard’s team will collaborate with researchers at UW-Madison, University of Washington-Seattle, University of California-San Diego, North Carolina State University, King’s College London, the Norwegian Life Sciences University, and the University of Auckland in New Zealand.