Addictions & Systems Biology


“In 2001, scientists finally cracked the code that reveals the complete genetic blueprint of the human body (the human genome). With this genetic blueprint in hand, they hoped to be able to better understand and treat illnesses that affect millions of people worldwide, such as lung diseases, diabetes, cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and alcoholism….

“Systems biology is especially relevant to alcoholism, a multifaceted disease that involves many interrelated and interacting mechanisms. Systems biology approaches provide tools that can help researchers better understand how alcohol affects various body tissues and how the resulting changes lead to the development of addiction to alcohol and organ damage. This new information also has the potential to help researchers develop better and more targeted medications for alcohol-induced disorders….

“Traditionally, researchers have focused on individual molecules and their interactions. Systems biology’s difference—and its advantage—is that it integrates this research to examine larger systems as a whole….

“Similarly, although it is necessary to identify the genes, proteins, and cells that make up the human body, knowing how each part functions will not explain how body systems work or the diseases that affect them. Rather, it is necessary to understand how these parts work together to create complex effects that are larger than the sum of their parts….

“Systems biology allows scientists to integrate data from different experiments, revealing complex properties that may not be apparent from any single experiment and to integrate and interpret enormous amounts of information about how the human body functions. Systems biology allows researchers to examine body functions on many levels of complexity, from how the body “reads” DNA information to produce various proteins to changes that occur in behavior….

“With the decoding of the human genome, researchers gained access to extensive information about the molecules in the body, how they function in the healthy organism, and how they may contribute to certain diseases. However, despite this wealth of information, many questions remain about the ways in which these molecules interact to control more complex phenomena, including the development of many common disorders. Systems biology offers scientists a promising tool with which to deal with such complexities and may revolutionize the prognosis, diagnosis, and treatment of alcohol use disorders and other multifaceted disorders. These new approaches provide researchers with new opportunities to work together, share data, and use computer technology and mathematical modeling to steer research in exciting new directions….”


Alcohol Alert,  (75), April, 2008.  SYSTEMS BIOLOGY: The solution to understanding alcohol-induced disorders?


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