The Virtual Liver: A Multidisciplinary, Multilevel Challenge for Systems biology

The liver is the central metabolic organ in human physiology, with functions that are fundamentally important to the detoxification of xenobiotics, the maintenance of homeostasis of numerous blood metabolites, and the production of mediators of the acute phase response.

Liver toxicity, whether actual or implied is the reason for the failure of many promising novel medicines that consequently never reach the market, and diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and fatty liver diseases, that are a major burden on current health resources, are directly linked to functional and structural disorders of the liver.

In this lecture I shall present the concepts and approaches underpinning one of the most exciting and ambitious modelling projects in the field of systems biology and systems medicine. This major multidisciplinary research program is aimed at developing a whole-organ model of the human liver, representing its central physiological functions under normal and pathological conditions. The model will be composed of a larger battery of interconnected sub-models representing liver anatomy and physiology, integrating processes across hierarchical levels in space, time, and structural organization.

The talk will offer an outline of the general architecture of the liver model and present the first steps taken to reach this ambitious goal.

About Adriano Henney

Dr Henney has a PhD in Medicine and many years academic research experience in cardiovascular disease in laboratories in London, Cambridge and Oxford. His interests have focused predominantly on atherosclerosis, with studies ranging from pathology, through molecular and cellular biology to molecular genetics.

In 1997, he was recruited by Zeneca Pharmaceuticals from a Senior Fellowship position leading his own molecular genetics group in Oxford, to lead the exploration of new therapeutic approaches in atherosclerosis, specifically focusing on his research interests in vascular biology.

Following moves within AstraZeneca he became responsible for exploring strategic improvements to the company’s approaches to pharmaceutical target identification, and the reduction of attrition in early development, directing projects across research sites and across functional project teams in the US, Sweden and the UK. This resulted in the creation of a new multidisciplinary department that focused on pathway mapping, modelling and simulation supporting projects across Research and Development, which evolved to establish the practice of Systems Biology, prototyping the application of mechanistic disease modelling approaches to the discovery of innovative new medicines.

Since leaving AstraZeneca, Dr Henney has continued his interest in Systems Biology, Synthetic Biology and Systems Medicine through his company, Obsidian Biomedical Consulting Ltd. He now directs a major €50M German national flagship programme: the Virtual Liver Network.