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A biologist and an astrophysicist unite for preventive medicine

Predicting and preventing serious illness using algorithms

Harnessing astrophysics to create a new future in preventive medicine is just one of the many unexpected collaborations taking place at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre.

Systems Biologist Professor David James’s research focuses on human metabolism. His goal? To create a future where medicine focuses less on curing disease and more on predicting a person’s likelihood of serious illness – then preventing it. 

Through his research into diabetes, Professor James has found that insulin can change the state of thousands of proteins within a single fat cell. With trillions of cells in the human body, making sense of that amount of information is simply beyond human capacity.

This is why he’s working closely with a colleague at the Charles Perkins Centre, Associate Professor Zdenka Kuncic. Trained as an astrophysicist, Professor Kuncic has developed sophisticated algorithms to deal with vast ranges of numerical data. Now Professor James is using these algorithms that make sense of the universe to understand how insulin acts in our body after a meal. 

That a biologist has a close working relationship with an astrophysicist says a lot about the mind-boggling complexity of the human body. This research will help achieve a nuanced, cellular-level understanding of the human body, an essential step in defining how we can then prevent and treat obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.