Mary Catherine Calisto Systems Biology Initiative

To support the adoption of a systems biology approach to research, the National Brain Tumor Society launched the $5 million dollar Mary Catherine Calisto Systems Biology Initiative in 2010. We believe this marked a critical turning point for brain tumor research, because systems biology holds promise to usher in a new era in which brain tumor therapies are developed much more quickly than has been the case under traditional research approaches.

Historically, scientists have tried to understand brain tumors by studying one or two parts of the tumor that had gone awry, such as a particular gene, protein, or series of biochemical reactions that appeared to drive cancer growth. While this research has greatly expanded our knowledge of brain tumors, it has had limited success in helping bring new therapies to patients due to the challenges of brain tumors. Brain tumors are complex, highly variable among and within types and subtypes, and their locations beyond the blood-brain barrier make it difficult for therapies to penetrate.

Given these challenges, a systems biology approach is essential. Systems biology recognizes that brain tumors are complex adaptive systems. The various parts of the system work together to keep the tumor going. To come up with effective treatments, scientists must study the entire system, not just one or two parts. With this newfound understanding, researchers can now apply a predictive approach to the development of new therapies.

Innovation through expert collaboration

The Mary Catherine Calisto Systems Biology Initiative mandates that grantees form a team of researchers and scientists, which includes experts outside of their own specialties. We believe this collaboration will fuel discovery for all brain tumor research, and provide an integrative view to the tumors of interest for this specific program. Visit the 2012 National Brain Tumor Society Summit recap to learn more about systems biology from experts in the field.

In September 2011, we awarded the first grants under this initiative, providing seed funding ($600,000) to six (6) leading researchers who we believe are poised to develop innovative and top-quality projects, which will be designed to take potential brain tumor therapies from preclinical research through to clinical trials.

Through this initiative, we plan to:

  • Promote development of more effective therapies and new treatment options for people with brain tumors
  • Lead the brain tumor research community to embrace systems biology and the concept of brain tumors as complex adaptive systems
  • Encourage other organizations to invest in systems biology research
  • Support collaboration among a wide variety of disciplines to uncover innovative approaches to treatment
  • Use cutting-edge technology to develop models of brain tumor systems that will help scientists predict which treatments are suited to each unique type of brain tumor
  • Increase the speed and efficacy of getting research to brain tumor clinical trials.