Purpose of review: Significant insight can be gained into complex biologic mechanisms of cancer via a combined computational and experimental systems biology approach. This review highlights some of the major systems biology efforts that were applied to cancer in the past year.
Recent findings: Two main approaches to computational systems biology are discussed: mechanistic dynamical simulations and inferential data mining. Significant developments have occurred in both areas. For example, mechanistic simulations of the EGFR pathway are promoting understanding of cancer, and Bayesian inference approaches allow for the reconstruction of regulatory networks. In addition, the article reports on advancements in experimental systems biology for determining protein-protein interactions and quantifying protein expression to generate the necessary data for computational modeling and inferential data mining. Emerging approaches will further improve the ability to bridge the gap between in vitro systems and in vivo human biology. Technologies paving the way include in vitro models that better reflect in vivo tumors, microfabricated devices of human physiology, and improved animal models.
Summary: An important challenge facing the field is how better to translate in vitro discoveries to the clinic. Computational systems biology approaches that use omic data to predict biology along with novel experimental systems that better represent human in vivo biology will prove useful in bridging this gap. Although still early, the potential application of systems biology and the future evolution of the field will significantly affect understanding of cancer disease mechanisms and the ability to devise effective therapeutics.