The five-year P50 grants, awarded by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, support research for disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention at centers with multi-investigator, interdisciplinary teams. The grant awarded to MIT’s synthetic biology center, headquartered in the Department of Biological Engineering, will enable systems and synthetic biologists to help advance health-related applications that would otherwise be difficult to achieve through solely independent investigator-led research efforts.
Center investigators include eight MIT faculty who will focus on three medically relevant research subjects positioned at the intersection of systems biology and synthetic biology: cancer therapy, artificial tissue homeostasis for beta cells, and infectious disease.
Synthetic biology is an emerging engineering discipline that focuses on the implementation of new tools, frameworks, and standards in the design of biological systems. Systems biology seeks to provide fundamental understanding of the design principles that govern genetic, protein and metabolic networks in cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases.
Weiss, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, says, “The success of the therapeutic strategies we propose requires synergies between systems and synthetic biology in order to provide the tools to both decipher complex disease networks and then to manipulate these networks in precise and powerful ways to cure diseases.”
In addition, the challenges the scientists face in preclinical implementation of these therapies will provide a new platform for breakthroughs in synthetic and systems biology.
The Center aims to leverage the fundamental capabilities and knowledge in both fields to innovate. For example, network motifs identified by systems biologists in natural systems may inspire the design of scalable biological systems. Moreover, synthetic biologists can leverage comprehensive system-level data and high-throughput characterization tools to design and optimize circuits that effectively interact with the complex cellular environment.
At the same time, synthetic biologists aim to provide tools and standardized frameworks that system biologists can use for modulating, probing, measuring, and testing hypotheses about natural systems.
Integration of the top-down, systems-level analysis of specific diseases, with a bottom-up synthetic construction of genetic circuits novel treatments, is expected to lead to new disease therapies with the ability to integrate multiple inputs and deliver specific interventions.
For additional information about the Center, please visit: http://synbio.mit.edu.