Revealing the network within

Published in Physics World, 4 Feb 2016

Can we map all the information being circulated in the human body, and would doing so be any use? Jon Cartwright explores the emerging interdisciplinary field of “network physiology”

It might seem obvious to say that everything in the human body is connected. Without a doubt, your various organs – heart, liver, lungs – work together to keep you alive, and functioning as close to normally as possible. Just think how both your heartbeat and your breathing speed up if you receive a shock – or how, in a starker example, the failure of one organ can lead to a cascade of failures in other organs, sometimes resulting in death.
But just how are our organs connected? Plamen Ivanov – a physicist at Boston University and Harvard Medical School in the US – thinks he may have at least the beginnings of an answer. Having developed and expanded upon the types of analyses found in the statistical physics of complex networks, Ivanov and others believe that the fluctuating outputs of organs, commonly considered “noise” by today’s physiologists, are in fact evidence of an underlying connectivity. Studying these fluctuations, he says, could give us an entirely new window into the workings of the human body – and help us prevent things going wrong. […]

The rest of this article is available here.