Taking Systems Medicine to Heart

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Abstract

Systems medicine is a holistic approach to deciphering the complexity of human physiology in health and disease. In essence, a living body is constituted of networks of dynamically interacting units (molecules, cells, organs, etc) that underlie its collective functions. Declining resilience because of aging and other chronic environmental exposures drives the system to transition from a health state to a disease state; these transitions, triggered by acute perturbations or chronic disturbance, manifest as qualitative shifts in the interactions and dynamics of the disease-perturbed networks. Understanding health-to-disease transitions poses a high-dimensional nonlinear reconstruction problem that requires deep understanding of biology and innovation in study design, technology, and data analysis. With a focus on the principles of systems medicine, this Review discusses approaches for deciphering this biological complexity from a novel perspective, namely, understanding how disease-perturbed networks function; their study provides insights into fundamental disease mechanisms. The immediate goals for systems medicine are to identify early transitions to cardiovascular (and other chronic) diseases and to accelerate the translation of new preventive, diagnostic, or therapeutic targets into clinical practice, a critical step in the development of personalized, predictive, preventive, and participatory (P4) medicine.

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