The EU has pledged €24 million (just shy of $33 million) to fund two new research consortia focused on using systems biology and systems microscopy to investigate cancer. The Systems Microscopy Network of Excellence (NoE) and Systems Biology of Colorectal Cancer (SYSCOL) projects will each receive €12 million in FP7 funding. Both will also be based at the Karolinska Institutet’s Center for Biosciences in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Systems Microscopy NoE aims to generate mathematical models of biological processes in time and space. The participating researchers hope this approach will provide more global insights into biological processes than genomic and proteomic techniques, which provide what they call "snapshots" of biological conditions prevalent at the precise moment of sampling.
The collaborators believe the technology required is available, but does need to be developed. “When we are trying to understand, for example, the process of metastasis, in which a cell must detach from the parent tumor and migrate away from it to establish new tumors, we need to visualize these events as a complete process,” notes Staffan Strömblad, professor of clinical molecular biology at the Karolinska Institutet and coordinator of the Systems Microscopy consortium.
The SYSCOL initiative, meanwhile, will focus on colorectal cancer and employ large-scale, genome-wide biological analyses and DNA sequencing techniques to identify the genes and regulatory elements associated with development of the disease. A unit for this type of analysis has recently been opened at the Karolinska’s Center for Biosciences. A key aspect of the project centers on collaboration with information technology researchers, so the data generated can be analyzed in new ways based on systems biology. The researchers hope their efforts could ultimately be used to help identify individuals at high risk for developing colorectal cancer.
“We have collected a critical mass of scientists working on biological processes and the origin of cancer,” notes Rune Toftgård, director of the Center for Biosciences. "I regard being awarded the responsibility for these two EU projects as an acknowledgement of our quality. It also provides a unique opportunity for Karlinska Institutet to participate in forming new fields of research that will have major significance for cancer treatment in the future.”