Research Focus

Imagine, if we understood what the 30 trillions of cells in our body do at any given moment...

Now compare these 30 trillions of cells (not counting the microbiome!) to the earth population of 8B people (3,750 times more!). This creates a massive undertaking...

At CSB we develop innovative technologies to enable the discovery of new biology, drug targets and diagnostics.

Approach: we develop new integrated systems for subcellular analysis and use innovative imaging tools to decipher dynamic networks. This allows us to interrogate networks at multiple scales from populations to molecules.
Routine blood test may predict COVID-19 hospital death risk

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an acute respiratory illness with a high rate of hospitalization and mortality. Biomarkers are urgently needed for patient risk stratification. In a recent paper in JAMA Network Open, a team of investigators at the MGH Center for Systems Biology has reported that a standard test that assesses variations in red blood cell volume (RDW) can identify hospitalized patients with COVID-19 at the time of admission who have a 2.7x increased risk of mortality. Patients who had RDW values above the normal range when they were admitted to the hospital had a mortality rate of 31 percent compared with 11 percent in patients with normal RDW values. An increasing RDW during hospitalization was also associated with increased mortality. Learn more...

New breakthrough for ultrafast bed-side cancer diagnosis

Rapid, automated, and point-of-care cellular diagnosis of cancer remains difficult in resource-limited settings due to lack of specialists and medical infrastructure. In a recent paper published in Science Translational Medicine, the biomedical engineering team at the Center for Systems Biology has developed an automated image cytometry system (CytoPAN) that allows rapid breast cancer diagnosis and receptor subtyping in 1 hour using as few as 50 cells obtained by fine needle aspiration (FNA). The combination of FNA and CytoPAN offers an alternative strategy for faster, minimally invasive cancer diagnosis in both developed and developing countries. Coupled with recently developed cycling technologies for FNA, this will also enable rapid molecular and cellular profiling of serial tumor samples in clinical trials. Learn more...

All metastases are not created equal

Metastases can form in locoregional lymph nodes – a form of progression that portends a worse prognosis but can still be curable – or they can develop in distant organs. Treatments for the latter case are typically considered palliative. It is unknown whether lymph node and distant metastases are only distinguished by their different prognostic implications, or whether the biology underlying their formation is also distinct. In a new study, published in Nature Genetics, the Naxerova lab at the Center for Systems Biology and collaborators at the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection at Stanford now show that lymph node and distant metastases develop through different evolutionary mechanisms. Reconstructing the evolutionary histories of dozens of colorectal cancers, the team showed that lymph node metastases are a genetically highly diverse group. Their pronounced heterogeneity indicates that they can be seeded by many different primary tumor sub-lineages. In contrast, distant metastases are homogeneous. They typically resemble each other and have a recent common ancestor, suggesting that fewer primary tumor subclones possess the ability to form lesions in distant organs. These results show that the selective pressures shaping metastasis development in different anatomical sites differ substantially. Learn more...