Processes on a cellular level are very complex. Different processes fit into each other like the gears in a clock. Genes control each other, a protein turns off one gene and turns on another instead, and so on. If errors occur, diseases can emerge. Until now, researchers have not been able to explain precisely how genes are controlling each other and interacting with proteins. But understanding these mechanisms could make the treatment of diseases like cancer more effective.
Verena Wolf, professor of modeling and simulation at Saarland University, is pursuing a new approach. Together with her group, she works on mathematical models and computerized simulations, which are exploring “gene regulated networks”. By doing so, the researchers in Saarbrücken can describe procedures inside cells and lab observations in more detail than before.
With certain computational methods, the computer scientists can randomly turn genes on and off in their simulations. By using their software SHAVE (Stochastic Hybrid Analysis of Markov Population Models), they are even able to imitate processes of whole cell populations. Until now, this was only possible with expensive procedures, which took several weeks, but with SHAVE, the same procedures can be carried out in several days.
In the future, physicians and biologists can use the new software to better understand the emergence of cancer and to develop more effective therapies. The award is designed for young scientists and engineers, 35 and under. Wolf is one of five laureates. 46 participants were nominated for the award.