ISB News

ISB Q&A: On the Systems Biology Summer Course

From our inception, we at ISB have been committed to knowledge transfer. This profound sense of responsibility to share what we learn serves as the foundation for our signature professional course on systems biology. This year’s course, which takes place July 27-31 in ISB’s conference facility, will offer a few new features, including lightning talks about systems biology technologies and a mini symposium consisting of research vignettes from nine ISB researchers. The course is geared toward graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and principal investigators. If you or someone you know would be interested in participating, visit for registration info. (This event is co-sponsored by ISB’s Center for Systems Biology.)

Dr. Chris Plaisier, a senior research scientist in the Baliga Lab and one of the organizers of the summer course, shares some thoughts:

Q: Why is it important for ISB to offer a systems biology course?
CP: ISB does lots of amazing science and we do try to break the insights down for the public who pays for our research to see. But that isn’t enough. What we really need is a way to get the new systems biology ideas and methods we and others have developed into the hands of our colleagues. Science is a group effort and by teaching others to use our systems approaches we will greatly enhance their ability to conduct research and solve complex biological problems.

Q: What distinguishes the systems biology course at ISB from any other?
CP: Last year we revamped and updated our course to be focused on Systems Biology of Disease because there were no courses like it out there. The goal of this course is to give researchers the tools needed to divide patients into meaningful groups, discover molecular markers that distinguish these groups, and how to use networks to discover drug targets. Together these tools allow researchers to do personalized medicine where treatments are tailored to a specific patient’s disease.

Q: What do students gain from experiencing ISB’s course?
CP: Participants in the ISB summer course will gain experience using systems biology approaches that allow them to carry out personalized medicine. They will also experience presentations of excellent examples of systems biology from world experts and the exceptional researchers at ISB.

Q: How does learning systems biology help researchers?
CP: It is vitally important to think more holistically in this age of big data and with an understanding that interactions can be just as important as single effects. The traditional approach of focusing on single isolated components just won’t work in the complex systems that are human beings. We advocate instead to embrace the complexity and have developed approaches that allow us to uncover the underlying causes of human diseases no matter how complex.

Q: Why should non-scientists care about systems biology?
CP: Systems biology is the future of research and will provide the tools needed to understand complex diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity, etc., that are plaguing our society. With systems biology, we will learn how all of the different aspects of human health (diet, genetics and environment) affect these diseases and how to treat each individual patient with personalized medicine.

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