It has become clear that allergic responses, at the cellular and molecular level, are not regulated by straightforward linear pathways but rather by networks of complex molecular interactions impacted by various environmental stimuli and the genetics of the individual. In order to truly understand such a complex response, one must look at the response as a system - not just its parts.
Systems biology and associated bioinformatics analyses aim to more holistically study such responses, gaining insights not possible through more reductionist approaches. To use such a systems-based approach, we require a catalogue of components of the system and how they interact i.e., consolidation and detailed annotation of molecular interaction networks and pathways relevant to allergy.
Despite heroic efforts to date to define the human "interactome" (i.e. all molecular interactions within human cells), our preliminary research indicates that integrated information about the "allergy interactome"(the components involved in allergy) is very poor versus other research areas like cancer. Yet, there is rich knowledge in the scientific literature about individual allergy and associated immune interactions. Integrating this knowledge, and combining it with sophisticated data analysis and visualization tools, would allow key insights to be gained about allergic responses that were not previously possible.
We are currently developing a first version of an Allergy and Asthma Portal (AAP) that will integrate such data from both the literature and AllerGen researchers, and provide an analysis platform for more sophisticated investigations of the allergy response. The AAP is built upon our previously developed InnateDB resource which has been used successfully to gain fundamental new insights into immune responses, leading to new immune-modulating therapeutics. InnateDB is also part of the IMEx consortium, an international collaboration between a group of major public interaction data providers who have agreed to share curation efforts.
The collected, networked data for this effort will form a base for future data integration efforts. AllerGen molecular biology, genetics and bioinformatics researchers (and later a larger cross-section of other researchers) will be able to use this web-accessible resource, allowing them to gain new understanding of allergic responses, and identify new biomarkers and therapeutic targets, using a more systems-based approach.