The future of medicine: How ComplexData can change it with Ariadne?

18

OCTOBER, 2019

News
Editorial
Medicine

Is traditional biology ending?

I was trained as a traditional biologist. I use molecular biology, cutting and sewing genes, and practice cell biology by growing cells, studying their growth in vitro and, more interesting for me, observing cells with the microscope. I was never fascinated by molecular biology too much. I understand its role and importance, but I always considered it limited by the fact that we are using models, studying single genes and avoiding the surrounding complex network inside the cell. I thought that studying cell biochemistry was more interesting for a person like me, who is always curious and forward-looking. I studied the signal transduction pathways in tumors and in particular a kinase, PKC, for many years using cells and animal models. But I was not satisfied. I always had in my mind the idea that I was missing something, for PKC was just a small part within the whole world of the cell.

The CC&B spin-off selected as an example
of creative innovation

Photo credits ComplexData

It is not surprising, thus, that I was captivated by the study of complex systems since I first approached them about 10 years ago. I was enchanted by the idea of investigating them trying to discover their emerging properties. This is also why I like to look at the cell with the microscope and discover their crucial properties. A cell is an entire world that we have the incredible possibility to observe and analyze during its life, a complex system from which we try to extrapolate a series of quantitative properties.

Thus, in the past 10-12 years, I have studied collective cell migration, the plasticity of tumor cells, and the mechanical properties of insectivorous plants using a mix between computational analysis, quantitative biology and advanced microscopy. From this perspective, molecular biology is just one of the tools that allows me to construct a model to be studied further with a quantitative approach. The cell biology approach that I am pursuing now is completely different from the one I used in the past. These days – now that our last paper on insectivorous plants was successfully published in PNAS after at least three years of intense work with an incredible interdisciplinary team –

I started thinking about the future of biology and its different disciplines (biochemistry, physiology, botany… etc.).

I started thinking about the future of biology and its different disciplines (biochemistry, physiology, botany… etc.).

Being a general pathologist, I am very happy to have the opportunity to join this community since this discipline’s perspective is quite broad. A general pathologist is someone that has to be interdisciplinary in order to properly understand the roots of diseases. I think that traditional biology is dying, and we should teach to our new generation of students a different – and interdisciplinary – way to approach science, stressing the novel job opportunities it may offer.

Many of my former students are doing highly interdisciplinary jobs, which are very different from those that traditional biologists do. I think that this was possible because of the experience they had in my lab, an experience rich in complexity, full of discussions with many people with different expertise. I believe that we as part of the scientific community, have to understand and join together all these little pieces of science published and collected during the last fifty years.

We do not need to publish 100 papers per year but instead we should focus on fewer papers of higher quality containing some innovative ideas.

We do not need to publish 100 papers per year but instead we should focus on fewer papers of higher quality containing some innovative ideas.

How to do this?

I have some thoughts but I think that the scientific community should discuss all together what to do. I am beginning to plan what I will do in the next ten years. The field of “Big Data” is already old and we often analyze huge amount of data without discovering something really new and understanding their deeper meaning.
Complexdata, the spinoff that I founded and serve as CEO, represents the path I want to take to give a new impulse to science and, on the other hand, to help young scientists to find a nice and exciting job. Follow me in the coming years and you will see.

COMPLEXDATA participated to the “Genio e impresa” initiative, a project by Assolombarda in collaboration with the Lombardy Region, the Innovation Lab of the Politecnico di Milano and MEET (an international centre for digital culture), launched on July 2nd at Palazzo Gio Ponti in Milan.
The spin-off – founded in June 2018 by CC&B members Caterina La Porta and Stefano Zapperi, together with Luciano Pilotti and others colleagues from the University of Milan – participated to the initiative with ARIADNE, a platform based on artificial intelligence, capable of predicting the score of aggressiveness of breast cancer starting from a biopsy. Inspired by the historical interaction between Leonardo Da Vinci and Lodovico il Moro, “Genio e impresa” includes several initiatives like a multimedia exhibit or a treasure hunt to discover places connected to Leonardo and innovation. 130 companies responded to a call launched by Assolombarda at the beginning of the year, and only twenty out of them were selected by the Politecnico di Milano. COMPLEXDATA was one of them, together with Pirelli, Montedison, Solvay and many other renowned examples of innovation in Lombardy. The CC&B spin-off had its own place in the exhibit, which told the story of how Caterina La Porta and Stefano Zapperi developed the idea of the ARIADNE platform. The exhibition started on July 8th and ended in September 15th; it told the story of how Caterina and Stefano met, and how they developed the first spark of the idea of ARIADNE, showing how an interdisciplinary team and a scientific couple is the core secret of innovation. ARIADNE won other prices, as it was among the semi-finalists of Bio-Upper in July 2018, semi-finalist at the GSVC competition, won the Startup 4.0 Special Award during the Start Cup Lombardia 2018 competition, and won G-Factor, the accelerator of Fondazione Golinelli for 2019.

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