The human body is a finely tuned machine, powered by genes, proteins and cells that operate in a complex,
efficient system. Traditional biology studied these components one at a time, yielding limited insights
about the way a machine functions. It is now apparent that the most effective way to understand how the
human body works, and to best repair it when it breaks down, is to unravel how these different components
The Donnelly Centre takes this holistic approach to biomedical research: By integrating technology, expertise
and thought from a diverse array of disciplines, it aims to unravel some of the great complexities
of biology. In the process, the Centre is poised to make some significant future advances in medicine and
At the Donnelly Centre, biomedical research is defined by three broad platforms:
1) Integrative Biology
Includes: Systems Biology; Functional genomics; Proteomics; Bioinformatics; Chemical Biology and
Chemical Genomics; Structural biology.
The Donnelly Centre studies the foundations of biology using an integrative approach. Researchers with
diverse perspectives and scientific backgrounds work together to investigate the complex ways that genes,
proteins and small molecules interact. Their studies span the following disciplines:
Systems biology: studies a living organism by viewing it as an integrated and interacting network of genes,
proteins and biochemical reactions. Instead of analyzing an individual cell nucleus, for example, systems
biologists focus on all of the components of the cell and the interactions among them, as part of one system.
Functional genomics: uses the vast amounts of genomic data to describe gene (and corresponding protein)
functions and interactions.
Proteomics: is the large-scale study of the structures and functions of proteins, the main components of
the physiological metabolic pathways of cells. The term "proteomics" was coined to make an analogy with
genomics, the study of genes.
Ribonomics: is the large scale study of RNA functions, metabolism, movements and
structures. New research is suggesting that RNAs play an equally
important role as proteins in the control of cellular architecture and
Bioinformatics: uses information technology to study biological processes. Recent advances in biological
research have led to an explosive growth in scientific data. Bioinformatics develops and advances computerized
databases, algorithms and statistical techniques to best store, manage and analyze all this biological
Chemical Biology and Chemical Genomics: probe living systems at the chemical level. Chemical biology
uses chemical compounds, or small molecules, to study and manipulate biological systems. Chemical
genomics studies how genes respond to small molecules.
Structural Biology: elucidates the molecular structure of biological macromolecules, such as proteins and
nucleic acids, and studies how they acquire their structures, and how their function is influenced by their
2 ) Bioengineering and Functional Imaging
Includes: Regenerative medicine; technological developments in cell and tissue imaging; high-throughput
No holistic approach to biomedical research would be complete without a cell biology platform. Several
researchers at the Donnelly Centre study the dynamics of healthy cells, while others investigate abnormal
ones, such as cancer cells. A greater understanding of the cellular basis of disease helps to develop
improved methods of diagnosing disease and more effective treatments for disease. This research draws
upon, and informs, the following disciplines:
Regenerative medicine: harnesses the power of stem cells to repair, regenerate or replace diseased cells,
tissues and organs.
Technological developments in cell and tissue imaging: Recent advancements in imaging technology stem
from nanotechnology (e.g., metal-based nanostructures), microtechnology (e.g., micro-sized machines),
and molecular engineering (e.g., bacteria-infecting viruses that connect proteins with the genetic information
that encodes them).
High-throughput cell biology: uses a combination of automation equipment and classical cell biology techniques
to perform rapid, large scale research. It addresses questions such as: how cells function and interact
with each other, and how pathogens exploit cells in disease.
3) Models of Disease
Includes: Stem cell biology; Model organisms; Animal models of human disease.
The Donnelly Centre also uses model organisms, such as yeast, and stem cells to gain a better understanding
of how diseases arise and develop. This research helps to identify new methods for prevention
and treatment. It encompasses:
Stem cell biology: studies how human embryonic stem cells develop into malfunctioning cell types (for example,
insulin-producing pancreatic cells or heart muscle cells).
Model organisms: include yeast – an organism that shares roughly one third of genes with humans – as
well as worms and mice. Studying the genetic interactions that cause disease in simple organisms, for example,
sheds light on the genetic basis for disease in humans.
Animal models of disease: is the study of a non-human animal that has a disease or injury similar to the
human condition under investigation.