Department renamed to reflect shift in focus

The molecular pharmacology department has a new name that more accurately reflects its work. Introducing: the Department of Chemical and Systems Biology.

The change signals a move away from the era of qualitative biology to one that uses chemical science techniques to reveal the underlying systems that make life possible. "Biology has focused on identifying the parts inside a cell that allow it to run right or go wrong," said department chair James Ferrell, PhD. "Now we're in the era of systems biology, trying to figure out how those parts work together."

That's where chemistry comes in. Chemical techniques allow the researchers to perturb the systems operating inside cells and tissues as well as to monitor the changes.

Systems biology is one of biology's fastest growing fields, though few institutions have a department devoted to its study. Aside from Stanford, Ferrell knows of only one other—at Harvard Medical School.

Many Stanford investigators outside of Ferrell's faculty of eight also pursue studies in chemical and systems biology. Ferrell said he hopes the name change pulls these researchers together. "Maybe this will inspire joint projects and help nucleate better communication," he said. The provost authorized the name change Oct. 10.