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Harvard Medical School launches new department to study human biology at the level of whole systems

Boston, Mass. (Sept. 23, 2003)--Harvard Medical School today makes a significant commitment to the emerging field of systems biology in announcing the creation of the Department of Systems Biology (DSB), one of the first department-level systems biology programs in the nation. Systems Biology seeks to build from our current knowledge of genetic and molecular function to an understanding of how a whole cell works as a system and from there to multi-cellular systems such as organs and whole animals. The Department of Systems Biology will be Harvard Medical School's first completely new department in more than two decades and, with more than 20 faculty recruitments expected, will be one of its largest departments.

A quantitative understanding of an entire subcellular, cellular, or organism system could dramatically speed drug discovery, by allowing one to predict the effects of attacking a specific target within the context of the complex cellular circuits. New drugs often fail after the expenditure of millions of dollars because the effect on a single gene or protein target in the test tube fails to have the predicted effect when tested in the human body.

"As we understand more about the tiniest pieces that we are made of, it becomes increasingly clear that we do not understand how they work together as systems," says Marc Kirschner, PhD, the first chair of the new department. "We need to build on the foundation of molecular biology to construct an understanding of the architecture of the cell and how cells cooperate across organ systems, with a predictive model of physiology as the ultimate goal."

"It is worrying that we do not understand how most drugs work and essential that we know in detail how both genetic mutations and the environment contribute to disease," says Dr. Joseph B. Martin, Dean, Harvard Medical School. "Answering such questions requires building predictive models of cells, organs, and ultimately, organisms. And this requ
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Contact: John Lacey
public_affairs@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0442
Harvard Medical School
23-Sep-2003


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