What is Systems Biology?
A global approach to biology
The study of medicine is changing from the old reductionist approach of looking at components of systems in isolation — individual cells or chemical pathways, for example — to a more global view of how the body works. The OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine was established in 2011 as a joint project between the Knight Cancer Institute and the School of Medicine with this newer approach — called a constructionist, or systems biology approach — in mind.
Multiscale means looking at all levels
We still want to measure and characterize DNA (genomics), RNA (transcriptomics) and protein profiles (proteomics)—to help us learn about differences between normal and diseased tissues, but we are gathering more information at both smaller and larger spatial scales — and watching this information as it changes over time. This multiscale systems biology approach, made possible through advances in measurement technologies, gives us much more context about what is happening in a healthy or unhealthy body. This, in turn, allows us to more fully understand how diseases develop, or, for example, how a normal, healthy person gets cancer. We believe that a spatial systems biomedicine approach will help us understand many areas of science and medicine. In particular, we are focused on solving how to prevent, treat, and cure cancers.
Leading technologies for multiscale research
At OCSSB, we have supported the development of many cutting-edge technologies to enable us to visualize cells directly, and obtain their omic profiles. Additionally, due to the extensive data collection that results from the imaging and omics analyses, the computer data server and storage requirements to support these are also necessary. Specific technological resources the OCSSB has contributed to include:
- Advance Computing Center for extraordinary data storage and server needs.
- Advanced Light Microscopy Core for confocal, superresolution microscopy, and related equipment and training.
- Multiscale Microscopy Core, a state-of-the-art electron and light microscopy facility providing imaging services, access and technical support to OHSU and external customers.
- Pacific Northwest Center for CryoEM, a state-of-the-art cryogenic electron microscopy facility providing both user training and microscopy services.
- Massively Parallel Sequencing Shared Resource for sample preparation and genomic scale sequencing services on the Illumina HiSeq 2500 and NextSeq 500.
- Flow Cytometry Core for cell sorting and analytical flow cytometry, data analysis, consultation, and user education and training.
Epigenetics Consortium for sample preparation and bioinformatics analysis for epigenetics assays (e.g., Methyl-seq, Chip-seq, ATAC-seq).
Our multiscale microscopy yields deeply detailed imaging data which can be composited into 3D or even four dimensions (3D images as they change over time).