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Open Access Review

Is systems biology a promising approach to resolve controversies in cancer research?

Ana M Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein*

Author Affiliations

Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02111, USA

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Cancer Cell International 2012, 12:12  doi:10.1186/1475-2867-12-12

Published: 26 March 2012

Abstract

At the beginning of the 21st century cancer research has reached an impasse similar to that experienced in developmental biology in the first decades of the 20th century when conflicting results and interpretations co-existed for a long time until these differences were resolved and contradictions were eliminated. In cancer research, instead of this healthy "weeding-out" process, there have been attempts to reach a premature synthesis, while no hypothesis is being rejected. Systems Biology could help cancer research to overcome this stalemate by resolving contradictions and identifying spurious data. First, in silico experiments should allow cancer researchers to be bold and a priori reject sets of data and hypotheses in order to gain a deeper understanding of how each dataset and each hypothesis contributes to the overall picture. In turn, this process should generate novel hypotheses and rules, which could be explored using these in silico approaches. These activities are significantly less costly and much faster than "wet-experiments". Consequently, Systems Biology could be advantageously used both as a heuristic tool to guide "wet-experiments" and to refine hypotheses and test predictions.

Keywords:
Carcinogenesis; Default state; Systems biology; Proliferation; Oncogenes