Molecular and Cellular Systems Biology

Graduate students will develop a deep quantitative understanding of molecular interactions and cell behaviors in order to combat disease. Students will work with world-renowned leaders in the field as they navigate this critical frontier where molecular and cellular biology intersects with engineering and mathematics.

The key to understanding life — and the world's deadliest diseases — lies at the smallest of scales: the molecules and cells that make up the human body. Each of the 100 trillion cells that comprise the body is managed by many multicomponent molecular machines. The regulation of these molecules controls the most fundamental processes in biology. Understanding the interactions between the molecules, and how they influence cellular functions, is a central biological problem of great scope and complexity. Conquering this staggering challenge requires new approaches that combine network analysis theory with new ways of visualizing and manipulating biological networks, all across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Our investigators are leading the charge in this groundbreaking approach, which will unlock effective treatments for major diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neural dysfunction.

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Cancer is a diverse disease, with large variations between cancer types but also between individuals and even between tumor sites within the same individual. This variation in genetic mutations, epigenetic regulation, gene and protein expression is quantified using state-of-the-art high-throughput assays. In order to improve the treatment effectiveness for many cancers, we harness this knowledge of cancer diversity to create individualizable treatments. Combining the high-throughput, high-density data with computational models and bioinformatic analyses enables us to identify the key vulnerabilities in each person's disease and match it to available therapeutics. Novel drug delivery techniques enable specific targeting of the tumor cells, simultaneously improving efficacy while minimizing side effects and off-target effects of anti-cancer drugs.

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Cardiovascular System

The cardiovascular system includes two extremes essential for life. At the macroscopic level, the human heart pressurizes the system to pump blood throughout the body. The heart is a highly coordinated multicellular machine, and understanding the molecular mechanisms by which electrical signals propagate across the heart to induce large, rhythmic, and consistent mechanical deformation are key to development of novel therapies to treat heart rhythm and pumping dysfunction. Our researchers study this system at many scales, from the ion-channel molecules that initiate the heartbeat, to state-of-the-art microfluidic devices to probe the interaction of key molecules with multicellular cardiac myocyte architecture, to computational simulations of dynamic electrical wave propagation across the whole beating heart.

At the microscopic level, the smallest vessels of the vascular tree supply oxygen and nutrients to all organs. Blockage or dysfunction of this blood vessel network causes devastating damage to the heart, brain, and other tissues. From high-throughput quantification of cellular responses, to computational modeling of three-dimensional vascular architecture and blood flow within tissues, our researchers use highly quantitative methods to identify the key molecules whose manipulation can preemptively circumvent blockages and minimize tissue damage.

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Harnessing next-generation biological and engineering approaches to fathom the full complexity of the networks of molecules and cells that control the processes of life and lie at the heart of human health.