Systems biology: big data in asthma and allergy


Published Online: December 2014

Systems biology is an approach to understanding living systems that focuses on modeling diverse types of high-dimensional interactions to develop a more comprehensive understanding of complex traits manifested by the system. A systems biology approach to asthma and allergic diseases could empower us with a more comprehensive understanding of these complex disorders. In a Current Perspectives article focusing on systems biology published in this month’s Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), Supinda Bunyavanich and Eric Schadt review recent applications of system-wide profiling to asthma and allergy and provide perspective on building network models to integrate multi-scale data, including data from individually-captured personal health profiles.

The increasing availability of high throughput technologies has enabled system-wide profiling of the genome, transcriptome, epigenome, microbiome, and metabolome, providing fodder for systems biology approaches to examine asthma and allergy at a more holistic level. Here, Bunyavanich and Schadt provide an overview of these technologies and approaches for system-wide profiling, and also review their more recent applications towards the study of asthma and allergy.

The authors then discuss the use of these types of system-wide data to construct models that are predictive of the complex biological interactions that characterize asthma and allergic disorders. They provide examples of this type of work that has been done in asthma and allergy and map connections and interactions that could be further explored. The authors discuss network construction to represent causal relationships and address challenges and solutions for large-scale data management and analysis.

Bunyavanich and Schadt close with their perspective that personal health profiles captured by individuals themselves (such as those from smart phones and wearable devices) will contribute to the next wave in big data. These vast data that individuals already capture regularly (and often passively) include richly detailed information on individuals and their environment. If gathered and applied, such data could powerfully complement existing and future systems-wide profiling in asthma and allergy.


The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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