The worldwide unique Systems Biology Research Network was launched on 1st July 2010 by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The network’s goal is to establish a virtual liver model in order to obtain detailed information about the processes in this organ and develop tailor-made drugs for the treatment of liver diseases. The researchers are able to base their work on the promising results obtained in the predecessor project HepatoSys. The BMBF will provide the German Systems Biology of the Liver Network with around 43 million euros over the next five years.
The liver is a complicated biochemical factory. It converts and degrades more than 10,000 substances every day. The network hopes to be able to reconstruct a computer model of the first complete human liver.
The interdisciplinary Systems Biology of the Liver Network currently consists of 70 research groups from 41 institutions in science and industry. The researchers plan to use computer simulations to obtain a better understanding of the function and disease mechanisms of the liver, as well as make predictions on how pharmaceutically active substances are distributed in the liver, where they act and how quickly they are degraded. Such computer simulations have the potential to replace long-term experiments, to help tailor drugs to specific diseases and to adjust the dose to the requirements of individual patients, thus optimising the efficacy of drugs and minimising their side effects.
Federal Research Minister Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan commented on the ambitious project: "Germany holds a leading position in international medical systems biology. With this new network, the researchers will open up new prospectives for medicine. Systems biology is set to speed up the transfer of results from the laboratory bench to the bedside, as well as help save drug development costs. Systems biology is therefore a key technology and the driver of innovation for individualised medicine of the future."
The BMBF-funded precursor project HepatoSys has been investigating the cellular processes in the liver since 2004. The new project will focus on processes of entire cell complexes as well as in the organ as a whole.
The emerging field of systems biology investigates biological processes in their entirety: from the function of individual molecules to the interplay of different cells as well as the organs in the body. Molecular biology methods are combined with knowledge and technologies used in mathematics, the computer sciences, chemistry, physics and the systems sciences.