New National Centers for Systems Biology Focus on Fundamental Processes that Influence Health

Announcement Date:

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has funded three new National Centers for Systems Biology, which conduct systems-level inquiries of biomedical phenomena and their influence on human health. These centers will focus specifically on jumping genes, cellular decision-making and systems approaches to therapeutics.

The new centers are led by Jef D. Boeke, Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; James E. Ferrell, M.D., Ph.D., and Tobias Meyer, Ph.D., at Stanford University School of Medicine; and Ron Weiss, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under grants P50GM107632, P50GM107615 and P50GM098792, respectively.

Boeke's Center for Systems Biology of Retrotransposition, which will receive up to $11.6 million over 5 years, will focus on modeling and understanding the interactions between organisms and the transposable elements in their genomes. These elements, often referred to as jumping genes, cut and paste themselves into DNA and RNA and are emerging as potentially important predictors of complex human traits, including predisposition to disease. The research will shed light on transposon biology, including where transposons insert themselves into host genomes and why these insertions are more common in certain cell types.

Ferrell and Meyer’s Stanford Center for Systems Biology, which will receive up to $11.4 million over 5 years, will pursue a systems-level understanding of cell division, migration and differentiation. Among the center’s approaches to studying these complex and highly coordinated processes will be real-time imaging, microfluidics, computational modeling and new technologies for the acute perturbation of systems.

Weiss’ Synthetic Biology Center at MIT, which will receive up to $11.4 million over 5 years, will bring together an interdisciplinary research team to integrate systems views of diseases with the synthetic construction of novel treatments. In particular, the center will explore using synthetic, RNA-based circuits to sense and destroy cancerous cells; programming the differentiation of stem cells to generate insulin-producing beta-islet cells for diabetes; and engineering approaches to target antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In addition, NIGMS has renewed funding for the Systems Biology Center New York, which is led by Ravi Iyengar, Ph.D., of Mount Sinai School of Medicine under grant P50GM071588. This center focuses on the systems-level study of medicine and therapeutics by integrating theoretical and experimental approaches to understand how drugs affect the organization and physiology of cells, tissues and organs to produce both therapeutic and toxic effects.

For more information about the NIGMS National Centers for Systems Biology, including descriptions of the 14 other centers, see