Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Social Networks might cure cancer

Gina Kolata wrote an interesting piece in Sunday's New York Times, reflecting upon the on the power of social networks.
My favorite quote:

"Now, scientists believe that social networks not only can spread diseases, like the common cold, but also may influence many types of behavior — negative and positive — which then affect an individual’s health, as well as a community’s.

“In the past few years we have been seeing a network revolution,” says Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a physics professor at the University of Notre Dame. “People sensed that networks were out there, but they never had large enough data sets to start understanding them in a quantitative fashion.”

We've known this all along haven't we? That's why our parents tried to keep us away from the 'bad kids'. That's why we had the first cigarette, the first drink.

Human beings are social creatures and everybody influences everybody. And these social networks not only exist between people but also on a cellular level:

"The challenge in medicine now is to map out complex dynamic networks, Dr. Barabasi said, and he does not just mean networks of people. The proteins and enzymes in a cell also form a closely connected network, Dr. Barabasi says. And when you tweak one protein, the whole web is affected. “That is why drugs have side effects,” Dr. Barabasi said.

And, he adds, “we will not have cures for obesity or cancer until we understand those networks.”

But he’s an optimist, believing that these cellular networks will be mapped sooner or later. “Right now, this is a work in progress,” Dr. Barabasi says, “but I believe we will get there in 10 years.”

Social Networks as the cure-all? Why not?

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