UCL Computational and Systems Medicine

Computational and Systems Medicine

Computational and Systems Medicine (CSM) is a new initiative within the UCL Division of Research Strategy and the UCL Platform Technologies group.

CSM is an attempt to draw together a number of related strands of health sciences research and practice at UCL (including UCL Partners), with the overall goal of supporting translational research – that is, closer integration of basic research in the biomedical sciences with clinical practice, in the belief that clinical experience can better inform research and that basic research can be translated more effectively and quickly into improvements in clinical practice. The overall objective is to break down barriers between research and health care, in particular by improving the ways in which information is shared between these different domains. CSM addresses the ways in which data are managed, analysed, and integrated, the ways in which the resulting knowledge is created, managed, disseminated and exploited, and the ways in which collaboration between scientists and clinicians can be improved.

As its name implies, CSM is based on the fact that computational techniques for analysis and modelling are now central to biomedical research, and that taking seriously the idea of a “systems” approach to medicine will lead to a more integrative and predictive view of disease and therapy. By “systems approach” we mean the idea that biological systems have both complex structure and complex dynamics, and that adopting the ideas and methods of the “sciences of complexity” will lead to a deeper understanding of issues such as feedback, modularity, robustness, stability and the roles that they play in disease processes. It is becoming very clear that there are very complex interactions in space and time over and above those directly coded by the genome, and that disease is often the result of errors in these interactions. The study of this complexity requires experimental, analytical and modelling techniques from many different disciplines, applied at spatial scales from the molecular to the whole organism (and indeed beyond to populations and ecosystems), and at temporal scales from femtoseconds to decades. CSM works closely with the recently-established UCL systems biology programme to ensure that the systems approach to basic biology is informed by the needs of heath care.

Another important emphasis of CSM is that translational research should ultimately be “patient-centred” rather than “molecule-centred”: this perspective emphasizes the fact that no two patients, and no two instances of a disease, are identical, and that contemporary methods of analysis at the genotypic and phenotypic levels are beginning to give us some systematic understanding of how human variation plays into clinical practice. This will, we hope, lead eventually to the concept of medicine as being personalised and predictive: using computational methods and information about the phenotype of a particular patient, treatment can be optimised for that patient.

UCL is a teaching, as well as a research, institution, and one of CSM’s goals is to help to foster the systems approach in teaching of life and medical sciences. The CoMPLEX Doctoral Training Programme is one pre-existing example of such an approach, and CSM works closely with members of CoMPLEX to achieve this goal.

Page last modified on 26 nov 10 11:08