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The rise of "network" medicine?

In a TEDMED talk yesterday, network scientist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, PhD, discussed why studying health conditions by first examining networks can help physicians better understand how diseases overlap and relate to each other. The approach, he said, accounts for the complex relationships between parts of the body that make up a larger system and could accelerate discovery of new ways to treat disease.

The Atlantic reports:

Using the idea of Manhattan as a metaphor for cellular and genomic mapping, Barabasi told attendees at TEDMED that organ-centric medicine will soon give way to something called relational or "network" medicine. In this view, disease is simply the end result of genes interacting with one another in certain ways. By finding out not only which genes and diseases are linked but also how different combinations of genes work to produce related illnesses, Barabasi expects medicine to evolve into a kind of systems science that it isn't today.

How will we get there? Well, if researchers can map all the genes related to asthma, Barabasi said, they can find other genes that interact with asthma and extrapolate for other diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a common affliction among smokers. Eventually, the jumbled collection of street names will begin to make sense as distinct neighborhoods with arteries running in between.

Photo by Emmanuel Huybrechts

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