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From The Genome To The Diseaseome

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With the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001, it was expected that researchers would discover genetic mutations that lead to diseases, and pharmaceutical companies would develop new drugs to target those mutations.

"It's been an unmitigated failure from my perspective," said Joseph Loscalzo, head of the department of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  

Researchers are attempting another approach using networks of genes and pathways where diseases tend to cluster, referred to as the diseasome, reported PBS.

"The problem is that the gene approach is too simple. Our genomes are just one part of a vast network of interactions in our cells and in our bodies," said Loscalzo. "The way to treat medicine in the future will rely on a new approach, one that scientist are now beginning to flesh out called network medicine."

"The genome hasn't been a medical panacea because it's little more than a parts list," said László Barabási, a professor of Network Science at Northeastern University. "A mechanic will never be able to fix the car without knowing how the parts interact with the other components."

Barabási compares the diseasome to a map of Manhattan. There are clusters of activities taking place in theaters along Broadway, advertising agencies on Fifth Avenue and finance on Wall Street. The same is true for the patterns in a cell, which are chemical networks.

Aviv Regev, director of the Cell Circuits Program at the Broad Institute, is investigating networks that occur in specialized cells.

"It took years to understand all the connections in just one cell, but we developed the models from scratch," said Regev. "Without figuring out that circuitry, it's hard to figure out what genes actually do and act on that knowledge."

Another potential use of the diseasome is finding new uses for existing drugs.

"Now we know what neighborhoods the diseases are in," said Barabási. "So, if a drug has been developed for heart disease but it tends to be hitting in the asthma neighborhood, it could be a good asthma drug."

"In cell biology, there are no maps, but they are starting to emerge," Barabási noted. "And that could be completely transformative for medicine."

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