The Wistar Institute Center for Systems and Computational Biology
The Center for Systems and Computational Biology (CSCB) is an interdisciplinary unit that bridges the three Institute research programs, provides space and resources to encourage scientific interactions, and allows for more efficient use of centralized computational and other advanced technological platforms. The Center supports the development of new tools for integrating and analyzing data from genomics, proteomics, molecular modeling, and high-throughput screening, chemical biology, structural biology, and imaging, all of which press the limits of data analysis and data storage.
The CSCB provides an essential platform that helps researchers find ways to take what they have learned in the laboratory and apply them to real-life situations.
Systems biology is a new approach to biomedical research in which scientists focus on the large-scale analysis of biological systems, such as the regulation of a genome or a set of metabolic pathways. Systems biology uses the tools of genomics and proteomics—the systematic study of genes and proteins, respectively—to understand biology at a higher level of complexity.
Computational biology is a critical component of systems biology. It involves the use of computer science, mathematics, and statistics to process and interpret very complex data sets. It gives scientists the tools to better understand the genetic basis of diseases and normal biological processes.
Genomics and Proteomics
Genomics is the study of the sum total of genes that are encoded in DNA. Proteomics refers to the collective body of proteins produced by genes encoded in DNA. That is, the proteome is the product of the genome and, unlike the genome, it can rapidly and frequently change during the lifetime of the cell.
New computational technologies and data storage devices now permit scientists to tackle problems that previously were not approachable, but are essential for biomedical researchers to exploit the full potential of the “omics” data being generated to understand complex biological regulatory systems and solve complex molecular structures.
Biomarkers—literally, biological markers—are molecules or physiological events that offer clues to the physical state of a cell, organ, or organism. Cholesterol, for example, can serve as a biomarker that indicates a risk for heart or vascular disease, while temperature serves as an obvious biomarker for fever. Genes, proteins, and other molecules all can serve as biomarkers.
Wistar scientists are looking for biomarkers that indicate risk for cancer and other diseases; the severity of disease; and the likelihood of responding to a particular therapy. Ideally, doctors would be able to conduct simple blood or genetic tests in the clinic to detect biomarkers. For certain diseases, such as ovarian, colon, and lung cancers, routine tests for biomarkers could serve as an early warning system, detecting the presence of the disease when treatment is most likely to succeed.