New Systems Biology Centers to Study Cellular Response Mechanisms


September 21, 2010

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has funded two new National Centers for Systems Biology focused on how cells respond to their environment. Results from the centers will shed light on ways cells adapt and protect themselves and may even lead to new therapeutic tools.

The centers are led by molecular biologist Wendell Lim, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Francisco, and biochemist Alexander Hoffmann, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Diego, and each will receive up to $15.4 million over 5 years. The new centers join 10 others supported by NIGMS.

Lim’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology will develop an understanding of how cells use circuits of biological molecules to sense and better live in their surroundings. Integrating approaches from engineering, genomics and systems and synthetic biology, the group will identify principles and architectural features involved in common cellular behaviors, such as adaptation, and will examine these circuits across different species. The center then will use this information to engineer synthetic circuits that can trigger desirable cellular responses to external cues, making them potentially useful in biotechnology and biomedicine.

Hoffmann’s San Diego Center for Systems Biology of Cellular Stress Responses will investigate how cells respond to stress, including pathogens, toxins and metabolic imbalances. The team will use genomics, proteomics and synthetic biology techniques to understand the signaling pathways involved in normal stress responses and how these responses protect cells. The researchers also will examine how misregulated stress responses can lead to disease. Results will provide clinically relevant insights into a range of human health problems, including cancer and inflammatory diseases.