A report by The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences highlights Systems Biology as a groundbreaking new approach to scientific research in medicine and engineering. Systems Biology will improve treatments and our understanding of severe medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer and dementia, produce stronger and lighter materials for use in transport and unlock the potential of biofuels.

Systems Biology introduces sophisticated computer modelling and systems engineering concepts into traditional, laboratory-based research. It allows medical researchers to model, for example, how cells interact with their surrounding cells and organs with the rest of the body, instead of studying them in isolation.

Sir Colin Dollery FMedSci, joint chair for the working group said, “Now is an exciting time for research, we have the tools and data for Systems Biology to benefit the UK in early access to medical advances and create economic opportunities to commercialize research in key economic sectors such as pharmaceuticals and engineering. Success could make the UK a leader in a key field; failure could have serious repercussions on scientific and economic progress with the UK losing its competitive edge over other countries such as the US and Japan.”

The report recommends investment of £325m over 10 years to establish three to five new Systems Biology centres of excellence. Professor Richard Kitney OBE FREng, joint chair of the working group added, “Funding in the UK has recently been increased but is hampered by an overall lack of specialists in the required disciplines. To grasp this exciting opportunity further resources must be committed now.”

The report also calls for reforms in higher education to make sure that there are enough qualified graduates and that the right working practices for systems biology research programmes are in place. Professor Kitney continued, “The UK can become a leader in this field, but institutions must overcome the barriers posed by traditional research structures which slow down interdisciplinary work. It should be natural for a molecular biologist to work closely with engineers, mathematicians and computer imaging specialists. “

The report Systems Biology: a vision for engineering and medicine (789.13 KB) was produced by experts in the field of Systems Biology, engineering, physics, pharmacology and medicine.

Notes for editors

  1. The independent Academy of Medical Sciences promotes advances in medical science and campaigns to ensure these are translated as quickly as possible into benefits for patients. The Academy’s Fellows are the United Kingdom’s leading medical scientists from hospitals, academia, industry and the public service. Further details may be obtained from Academy of Medical Sciences, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH. Tel: 020 7969 5288; Fax: 020 7969 5298.
  2. As Britain’s national academy for engineering, The Royal Academy of Engineering brings together the country’s most eminent engineers from all disciplines to promote excellence in the science, art and practice of engineering. Our strategic priorities are to enhance the UK’s engineering capabilities, to celebrate excellence and inspire the next generation, and to lead debate by guiding informed thinking and influencing public policy. The Academy’s work programmes are driven by three strategic priorities: enhancing national capabilities; recognising excellence and inspiring the next generation and leading debate, each of which provides a key contribution to a strong and vibrant engineering sector and to the health and wealth of society.

For more information please contact

Tonia Page or Jane Sutton - Royal Academy of Engineering
m: 07770 845984

Nicholas Hillier, Communications Manager, Academy of Medical Sciences
t: 020 7969 5206 m: 0778 8585563