Systems Biology + P4

The 100K Wellness Project


Learn more about the 100K Wellness Project and its pilot, Pioneer 100, at our Research Site


P4 Medicine at a Glance

P4 medicine is the clinical face of systems medicine.

P4 medicine will make blood a diagnostic window for viewing health and disease for the individual.

P4 medicine will provide new approaches to drug target discovery.

P4 medicine will drive profound economic, policy and social changes.

Systems biology will revolutionize the practice of healthcare in the coming decades. Today, medicine is largely reactive. It waits until a person is sick and then treats a disease, with varying levels of success. The revolution will emerge from the convergence of systems biology and the digital revolution’s ability to create consumer devices, generate and analyze “big data” sets and deploy this information through business and social networks.

By providing an understanding of disease at the molecular level, systems medicine will eventually be able to predict when an organ will become diseased or when a perturbation in a biological network could progress to disease. Alterations in biological networks can be reflected in the structure, quantity, or location of the proteins making up those networks. For example, ISB researchers have been developing tests that can flag the presence of particular cancers by detecting proteins in the blood, allowing those cancers to be treated at an early stage. As more such tests are developed, the proteins in blood could reveal the health status of every major organ in the body, enabling detailed predictions of disease causation and progression. 

The ability to predict and prevent disease will in turn make it possible to personalize medicine. Within a few years, it will be possible to sequence an individual’s genome for less than a thousand dollars. The DNA differences between individuals contribute to not only their unique physical characteristics but also to their differing susceptibility to disease. Medicine will be able to take into account how these DNA differences -- along with each person’s environmental exposures and experiences -- influence an individual’s biological systems. The result will be personalized predictions of disease and personalized treatments to prevent disease.

Realizing the promise of P4 medicine will require -- and will drive -- profound economic, policy, and social changes.

P4 medicine also will require new standards and new policies for handling biological and health care information about individuals. Genomes may contain information that people wish to keep private, and predictions of future health status raise complex questions about how much people want to know or want their insurance companies to know. Complex data sets will need to be handled securely and interpreted knowledgeably and thoroughly.

P4 medicine has a number of interesting implications. First, the development of systems approaches together with pioneering new technologies (individual genome sequencing, measurement of thousands of blood proteins from a fraction of a droplet of blood) and new computational and mathematical tools will lead to a digitalization of medicine. Namely, the ability to obtain disease-relevant information from single molecules, single cells or single individuals. This will lead within 10 years to billions of data points for each individual patient. How one reduces this enormous data dimensionality to simple hypotheses about health and disease is one of the grand challenges of computational medicine.

Third, P4 medicine will necessitate a fundamental change in the business plans of virtually every sector of the health care industry over the next 10 years. This will provide challenges to existing companies and opportunities to create new companies specialized in the needs of P4 medicine.