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Math model predicts cancer behavior

Vito Quaranta clicks on a small black dot on his computer screen. The dot ?which represents about a thousand cancer cells ?begins to "grow," morphing into a mass with finger-like projections that looks like an invasive tumor.

The Vanderbilt professor of cancer biology envisions a future when computer simulations like this will be used to predict a tumor's clinical progression and formulate individualized treatment plans. For the last two years, he has headed a major effort to develop the kind of mathematical model for cancer invasion powerful enough for this purpose. The result was published as an entirely theoretical paper in the journal Cell and, if he is right, it represents a "sea change" in how biology is done.

The new approach is not so different from forecasting the weather.

"Today we can know pretty well that for the next few days we're going to expect good weather or that there's a storm on the way," Quaranta said. "That's the kind of predictive power we want to generate with our model for cancer invasion."

Quaranta and colleagues at Vanderbilt University and the University of Dundee in Scotland developed a computational model for cancer invasion and described the model in the Dec. 1 issue of Cell. The model ?a series of mathematical equations that drive computer simulations of tumor growth ?suggests that the microenvironment around tumor cells determines the tumor's ultimate cellular makeup and invasive potential.

The investigators have focused on the events of invasion and metastasis (movement of a tumor to distant sites), Quaranta said, because these events mark "the critical transition of a tumor that in the end will be lethal for the patient." A tumor that does not penetrate the surrounding tissue can often be surgically removed with curative success.

"When a patient comes in with a tumor, we'd like to understand for that particular tumor, what are the chances that metastasis is going to occur," Quara
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Source:Vanderbilt University Medical Center


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