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The Center for Network Systems Biology looks to proteins for the answer

Mapping cures

Andrew Emili portrait
Andrew Emili
Professor of Biochemistry and Biology at the School of Medicine and the College of Arts & Sciences

Think of Andrew Emili as the Magellan of proteins.

The renowned molecular systems biologist says that human health and development depend on the network of interactions between the tens of thousands of proteins encoded in the human genome. But despite rapid advances in genomics, scientists know little about how these interactions work and how faulty interactions lead to disease.

This is where Emili and the new University-wide Center for Network Systems Biology (CNSB) come in. Emili hopes to create maps of protein interactions, which he describes as assembly instructions for molecular networks, and make them available to the broader research community. His ultimate goal is to translate this basic knowledge into novel diagnostic and therapeutic tools for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

“BU has tremendous resources, and, given the widespread community support, I think the center can leapfrog ahead and chart out some exciting new terrain to claim and explore.”

Emili, director of the CNSB, is widely regarded as a leader in the use of proteomics, the study of the protein products of genes, and mass spectrometry, a tool that can separate individual proteins from their connections, as well as bioinformatics and other molecular genetic and genomic technologies.

As a jointly appointed faculty member at the School of Medicine biochemistry department and the College of Arts & Sciences biology department, Emili serves as a bridge between the Medical and Charles River Campuses. His vision for the CNSB is “a highly collaborative, multidisciplinary research hub that tackles important fundamental questions in the field by forging new links with interested researchers across all BU campuses, the greater Boston area, and the world.

“BU has tremendous resources,” says Emili, “and, given the widespread community support, I think the center can leapfrog ahead and chart out some exciting new terrain to claim and explore. Let’s see what riches this initiative will yield.”

What’s your provenance, Pablo?

You might know the masterpiece, but do you know where it’s been? If thieves ever got their hands on it? Or wartime looters? Or was it forgotten in some relative’s attic?

Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia), Frida Kahlo

Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia), Frida Kahlo, 1928 Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts purchased this oil-on-canvas in 2015 from the family of a wealthy American industrialist, who bought it the year after its completion. At that time, Kahlo was relatively unknown and sold the painting for three pesos. Today, her work goes for millions.

Jodi Cranston’s virtual art museum delivers the answers to such questions. Mapping Paintings went live last summer, detailing what’s known about the ownership lineage of 750 artworks by 200 masters, complete with maps and timelines. The site is the product of six years of work by Cranston, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of the history of art and architecture, and a team of students. Created with support from the Kress Foundation and BU’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, Mapping Paintings also allows users to map any artwork.

The aim, Cranston says, is to help viewers see “the interrelationship between an artwork and its changing historical context.”