3 years ago

Will Systems Biology Deliver Its Promise and Contribute to the Development of New or Improved Vaccines? What Really Constitutes the Study of "Systems Biology" and How Might Such an Approach Facilitate Vaccine Design.

Ronald N Germain
A dichotomy exists in the field of vaccinology about the promise versus the hype associated with application of "systems biology" approaches to rational vaccine design. Some feel it is the only way to efficiently uncover currently unknown parameters controlling desired immune responses or discover what elements actually mediate these responses. Others feel that traditional experimental, often reductionist, methods for incrementally unraveling complex biology provide a more solid way forward, and that "systems" approaches are costly ways to collect data without gaining true insight. Here I argue that both views are inaccurate. This is largely because of confusion about what can be gained from classical experimentation versus statistical analysis of large data sets (bioinformatics) versus methods that quantitatively explain emergent properties of complex assemblies of biological components, with the latter reflecting what was previously called "physiology." Reductionist studies will remain essential for generating detailed insight into the functional attributes of specific elements of biological systems, but such analyses lack the power to provide a quantitative and predictive understanding of global system behavior. But by employing (1) large-scale screening methods for discovery of unknown components and connections in the immune system (omics), (2) statistical analysis of large data sets (bioinformatics), and (3) the capacity of quantitative computational methods to translate these individual components and connections into models of emergent behavior (systems biology), we will be able to better understand how the overall immune system functions and to determine with greater precision how to manipulate it to produce desired protective responses.

Publisher URL: http://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a033308

DOI: 10.1101/cshperspect.a033308

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