Plamen Ivanov wins $1 Million Keck Foundation award to develop new field of Network Physiology

October 19, 2015

Plamen Ch. Ivanov, a research professor in the Boston University Physics Department, has been awarded a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to develop a theoretical framework and establish quantitatively how organ systems coordinate their functions and integrate as a network.

Ivanov is leading a team of research scientists, including Ronny Bartsch, Chunhua Bian, Aylin Cimenser, Xiaolin Huang, Aijing Lin, Kang Liu, Qianli Ma, and Gustavo Zampier. The team members have diverse backgrounds, from statistical and computational physics to neuroscience and physiology, applied mathematics, and biomedical engineering.

Ivanov’s group collaborates with intensive care clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital, directed by Ednan Bajwa; sleep physiologists and epidemiologists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, led by Susan Redline; and scientists from the biomedical engineering division at Partners HealthCare, led by Julian Goldman.

The investigators plan to develop the first analytical tools to explore quantitatively the way in which organ systems dynamically interact as a network to produce distinct physiological states, both healthy and pathological. This system integrative approach will lay the foundation for an emerging field—network physiology—which will focus on understanding physiological functions and conditions as emergent, global behaviors coming out of dynamic interactions among diverse systems with transient characteristics.

The team’s approach represents a major departure from the conventional model of physiological research, in which linkages are traced vertically from the molecular level to the organ level. Instead, Ivanov and his team will investigate the horizontal integration across organ systems through their output signals. Their work will lead to a novel platform capable of simultaneously recording organ output signals and directly relating them to physiological states and disease conditions. The team plans to develop the first atlas of dynamic interactions of organ systems.

This transformative research program could have considerable impact, as it may determine for the first time fundamental mechanisms that govern organ network interactions and their evolution across physiological states. The program may also lead to next-generation ICU monitoring devices and more comprehensive assessments of drug effects based on novel information derived from networks of organ interactions. In addition, the investigators will build a database of network maps as a reference for normal and dysfunctional physiological conditions.

This program is a significant step in Boston University’s larger, multidisciplinary initiative to strengthen ties between the natural, computational, biological, and medical sciences.

The W. M. Keck Foundation funds research that is distinctive and novel, with the potential to create new paradigms, technologies, and discoveries that will save lives, provide innovative solutions, and add to our understanding of the world.

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company.  The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical, science and engineering research.  The Foundation also maintains an undergraduate education program that promotes distinctive learning and research experiences for students in the sciences and in the liberal arts, and a Southern California Grant Program thatprovides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth from low-income families, special needs populations and safety-net services. 

This article was originally published on BU Research.