In 2000, a question was asked that would change the way we think about medicine: how can the cell function properly when there are millions of errors within it? This question led to the development of network medicine, which has allowed for a deeper understanding of the human body and how to cure diseases.
The Human Genome Project was a major breakthrough in medicine that provided us with the map of life. However, just having a list of genes in our cells was not enough to understand how the body works. Network medicine fills in that gap by allowing us to map out the interactions within the cell and use that map to design new cures, drugs, and diagnostics.
Understanding Disease Genes
With the arrival of the Human Genome Project, we began to discover disease genes. These genes have mutations that prevent the protein generated by the gene from performing its normal functions. When this happens, an interaction is missing in the subcellular network, and the machine is unable to work.
Traditionally, doctors add more screws to fix the problem. However, this approach affects other processes in the network and often results in unwanted side effects.
The Achilles Heel of Networks
One of the distinguishing features of complex systems is that they are robust to various types of failures. The cell can carry out its functions despite millions of errors that occur between its cells, without causing noticeable problems. However, this robustness is also the Achilles heel of networks. While they are resistant to random failures, they are vulnerable to attacks. Removing a few major hubs in the network can cause it to break into tiny pieces.
Understanding the Structure of the Network
If we understand the structure of the network within our cells, we can take advantage of its robustness for therapeutic purposes. By knowing more about the network, we can be more precise in our interventions and only cure the problem without causing others. This is the next level of personalized medicine, where we not only look at the genome but also map out the interactions between molecules and look for a lack of interaction. This information allows us to bypass the lack of interaction and cure potential diseases.
Reforming the Way We Think About Medicine
We need to reform the way we think about medicine. Currently, if you have a disease, you go to a separate hospital depending on what tissue and what organ you have the disease. However, in each of your cells, you have the same genome and underlying network. A mutation that is in your heart is also in your brain and your toes.
Network medicine is a new way to cure diseases by using the map of cellular interactions to design new cures, drugs, and diagnostics. This method allows us to understand the source of the cell’s robustness and use it for therapeutic purposes. With the development of network medicine, we can look at not only the genome but also the interactions between molecules to bypass a lack of interaction and cure potential diseases. We need to reform the way we think about medicine and recognize that every cell in our body is interconnected, and every disease is related to the underlying network.