Systems medicine understands diseases as complex events and examines them in their entirety. To accomplish this, it brings together methods from biology, biotechnology, medicine, data science, and mathematical modeling. This makes it possible to look at the big picture and to explore how disease mechanisms are interrelated. At the DZNE, we use the latest test methods of laboratory-centered research and medicine. This research area also benefits from developments in computer technology and artificial intelligence.
The goal of systems medicine at the DZNE is to develop holistic approaches to gain new insights into diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). To reach this goal, we use data from high-throughput procedures and combine them with findings from clinical and population-based studies, as well as from fundamental research. This requires strong teamwork between many disciplines, including not only life and medical sciences, but also computer and data sciences.
In addition to researching neurodegenerative diseases, the systems medicine division at the DZNE works towards providing complementary, mainly data-driven, methods. These methods will provide a more holistic view of the complex molecular mechanisms involved in neurodegenerative diseases, and also in other chronic diseases in our aging population. Furthermore, systems medicine supports the development of new treatment strategies through innovative applications in drug research or by repurposing drugs.
Currently, this research area at the DZNE includes the following areas of focus:
Biotechnology and biomedicine
The cell is the biological building block of an organism. Understanding its molecular mechanisms not only helps us understand life, but also how diseases develop and progress. In the last decade, technologies for comprehensively measuring molecular properties of thousands of cells have become a reality. We call this approach the “molecular microscope”: a collection of techniques that makes it possible to simultaneously evaluate dozens to thousands of cell parameters in thousands of individual cells.
The area of biotechnology and biomedicine in the Systems Medicine division will therefore develop and establish such cutting-edge technologies and make them available to the scientists of the DZNE. These include single-cell omics processes and other high-throughput single-cell technologies such as multicolor flow cytometry.
In the future, medicine might be able to draw on data that are generated to describe the molecular changes observed in diseases. The intention behind this is to make accurate decisions based on sufficiently large amounts of data collected from each individual person. This would make it possible to overcome the conventional “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment and use the extensive molecular data and other information to develop medications and treatments for subgroups of patients. New developments in computer science, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, are important tools for achieving this. Our plan is to use these tools to identify disease-associated patterns derived from molecular characteristics defined on the single-cell level.
In other words: Our research is designed to use information from thousands of individual cells, combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning, to develop new approaches, so that diseases can be diagnosed specifically for each individual – thereby paving the way for customized therapies.
Information and data science
Dealing with large amounts of data (“big data”) is an essential aspect of our work. In this context, we are developing computer-based foundations for precision medicine. To do this, we primarily use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, as well as statistical methods. But the range of our activities extends even further: The DZNE also invests in developments in the field of revolutionary computer architectures such as “memory-driven computing” and in novel AI methods such as “swarm learning.”