Introduction: Translational systems biology approaches can be distinguished from mainstream systems biology in that their goal is to drive novel therapies and streamline clinical trials in critical illness. One systems biology approach, dynamic mathematical modeling (DMM), is increasingly used in dealing with the complexity of the inflammatory response and organ dysfunction. The use of DMM often requires a broadening of research methods and a multidisciplinary team approach that includes bioscientists, mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists. However, the development of these groups must overcome domain-specific barriers to communication and understanding.
Methods: We present 4 case studies of successful translational, interdisciplinary systems biology efforts, which differ by organizational level from an individual to an entire research community.
Results: Case 1 is a single investigator involved in DMM of the acute inflammatory response at Cook County Hospital, in which extensive translational progress was made using agent-based models of inflammation and organ damage. Case 2 is a community-level effort from the University of Witten-Herdecke in Cologne, whose efforts have led to the formation of the Society for Complexity in Acute Illness. Case 3 is an institution-based group, the Biosystems Group at the University of California, San Francisco, whose work has included a focus on a common lexicon for DMM. Case 4 is an institution-based, transdisciplinary research group (the Center for Inflammation and Regenerative Modeling at the University of Pittsburgh), whose modeling work has led to internal education efforts, grant support, and commercialization.
Conclusion: A transdisciplinary approach, which involves team interaction in an iterative fashion to address ambiguity and is supported by educational initiatives, is likely to be necessary for DMM in acute illness. Communitywide organizations such as the Society of Complexity in Acute Illness must strive to facilitate the implementation of DMM in sepsis/trauma research into the research community as a whole.