“Networks of Life” – Meet Our Scientists: Patrick Aloy

“Networks of Life” – Meet Our Scientists: Patrick Aloy


One of the most surprising things that we have experienced in the last ten years in biology is the huge complexity of the system. It’s not only about the molecules, it’s about the interconnections between these molecules that make the function of the cell. The main property of a complex system is what is known as emergent properties and this understood by the sentence that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. So we are not trying to understand the genes or the proteins, but also how everything is interconnected. And that’s exactly the aim of Network Biology, to study the system as a whole. We build in silico models of living systems that afterwards allow us to identify key properties that are no trivial from the individual elements. And afterwards we go to the laboratory and validate these new properties experimentally. Alzheimer’s Disease is a paradigm of a complex pathology. Currently we have no drugs to modify the biology of the disease. What we’ve done in the lab is to identify more than 300 interactions around this pathology, we took them to the computer, we built dynamic models for the disease progression and now we are taking a network medicine approach to fight the disease simultaneously from different fronts and to stop the advance. Breast cancer is another complex disease but unlike Alzheimer, in this case we have many drugs approved to fight it. The problem here is the appearance of resistance. And in many cases this resistance is because of the crosstalk between different networks or between pathways. Our network medicine strategy here is to identify the best points to target in these networks to avoid this crossed reactivity and therefore to prevent relapse. My personal dream is to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s obvious that current pharmacological approaches to tackle complex diseases just don’t work. We need to take the risk with novel strategies. We need fresh ideas. Our fresh idea is to implement Network Medicine. As a personal object I’ve brought these tools. I worked as an electrician with my father for over ten years and that’s not that different to what we do in the lab. You walk into an old house that has no power, obviously the house is wired but you have no idea where are the cables or which are the connections. So what you have to do is to isolate the different subnetworks or circuits until you identify the problem and can solve the shortcut. And this is what we do with cells in the lab.

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