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Nathan Price, PhD: Systems approaches to molecular diagnostics and perturbed network identification



Systems approaches to medicine hold significant promise for improving disease diagnosis and in helping to identify perturbed networks that drive disease phenotypes.  One of the major impediments to identifying robust multi-parameter biomarker panels is that most studies focus on binary classifications between heath and a single disease phenotype.  Thus, even when a real and robust differentiator can be found between a specific disease and normal, it is not known what other kinds of perturbations may also alter the biomarkers.  In light of this fact, my lab has undertaken a global study of biomolecular data taken from the major brain diseases in order to identify a panel of biomarkers that would in principle differentiate the major disease phenotypes of the brain simultaneously.  Another key challenge that arises in developing robust signatures comes from broad sources of variance between individual studies that can significantly affect reproducibility. Furthermore, we have developed a novel method for identifying disease-perturbed networks in each of these diseases.  Our method – called Differential Rank Conservation (DIRAC) – permits one to assess combinatorial gene interactions to quantify various biological networks in a comparative sense. Taken together, our results show strong ability to differentiate between most major brain disease phenotypes and also uncover significant network perturbations that, even by themselves, are highly predictive of disease phenotype.


Nathan Price is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the Institute for Genomic Biology, the Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, and the Center for Biophysics & Computational Biology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  He is also an affiliate faculty member in the Departments of Bioengineering  and Computer Science, as well as the Neuroscience Program.  He received his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 2005, working under the mentorship of Dr. Bernhard Palsson.   Prior to completing his degree, Dr. Price accepted a faculty position at the University of Illinois, but deferred for two years to work on systems approaches to medicine with Dr. Leroy Hood at the Institute for Systems Biology from 2005-2007, funded by the Sam E. and Kathleen Henry Postdoctoral Fellowship from the American Cancer Society.  In December 2006, he was named one of the inaugural “Tomorrow’s PIs” as a “rising young investigator” in systems biology by Genome Technology, and in 2008 was the recipient of the Howard Temin Pathway to Independence Award in Cancer Research from the National Institutes of Health.  In 2009, he received the NSF CAREER Award to use system biology approaches to guide genome-scale synthetic biology efforts.  In 2010, he received the Young Investigator Award from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust for his work to build genome-scale biomolecular network models of human glioblastoma (brain cancer).  Dr. Price is also a Deputy Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Computational Biology and an associate editor of BMC Systems Biology and Biotechnology Journal.  He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of TetraVitae Bioscience.