ESF to launch programme to tackle metabolic syndrome

Major metabolic disorders such as obesity will be the target of a new initiative which the European Science Foundation (ESF) will launch at the EuroBioForum event in Lisbon in December.

Metabolic syndrome consists of a range of interrelated common clinical disorders including obesity, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and high blood pressure. These conditions can lead to
the development of type 2 diabetes and raise the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the Western world, and diabetes is the main
cause of vision loss, renal failure and amputation of lower limbs.

The proposed ten-year programme is called ‘Systems Biology to combat Metabolic Syndrome’ (SBMS), and it will have a budget of ?175 million. Its goal will be to develop effective therapies,
covering diet and lifestyle changes as well as drugs, to both reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome conditions and treat existing sufferers.

The project will take a systems biology approach to the research. ‘Metabolic syndrome, like other multifactorial diseases, evidently is too complex to tackle along the lines of classic research
programmes,’ write the project proposers. ‘Considering its impact on human well-being and our Western society, it calls for a paradigm shift in biomedical research.’

They go on to define systems biology as ‘a rapidly developing approach that systematically implements the iterative cycle of data-driven computational modelling and model-driven
experimentation, resulting in more rational, cost-effective and goal-oriented scientific research’.

According to Professor Roel van Driel of the University of Amsterdam, one of the proposers of the SBMS initiative, the key to the success of the SBMS will be the way it brings together several
world class projects in a single, coordinated framework.

‘It’s not primarily a science problem. We are good at doing the science itself, but very poor at getting organised,’ he explains. ‘We will select those [projects] that are fit for a systems
biology approach and create a strong and well-focused consortium of European research groups.’

The ESF plans for the SBMS to be a testing ground to the EuroBioFund’s approach to research funding, which aims to bring together researchers and the many sources of funding in the life
sciences under one roof at an annual EuroBioForum event. The first such event was held in Helsinki, Finland, last year. The EuroBioFund is supported by the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

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