Weather Forecasting for Brain Cancer

Brain tumor growth may be predicted with weather forecasting tools

(RxWiki News) Weather forecasting is a pretty complicated science, despite how easy it looks on TV.  Now, scientists are seeing how this technology can be used to predict the course of brain cancer.

Meteorologists analyze tons of data, mostly complex math equations, to track how the atmosphere moves and behaves, then combines this with still more data that comes in from satellites and weather stations. In a really interesting study, medical scientists have borrowed the ways of weather forecasting to forecast the spread of brain tumors.

"Pay attention to how your body feels; it might be telling your something important."

Researchers from Arizona State University and the Barrow Neurological Institute wanted to demonstrate that the mathematical models used by meteorologists could be helpful in the clinical setting to predict the course of disease.

They chose glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a type of nasty brain cancer that spreads quickly, returns often and is tough to treat and beat.

This was the ideal disease for the researchers to play with because GBM involves complex geometry. So these math wizards used a formula (technically known as Local Ensemble Transform Kalman Filter (LETKF) that's used in weather prediction and applied it to two different math models mimicking how GBM grows and spreads.

A hypothetical brain tumor was then created and followed with synthetic MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

So without getting into all the really geeky stuff - vectors and feasibility and data assimilation techniques - let's just say that the smart formula they used may indeed be helpful in medical prediction.

Additionally, "The intelligent model can also take into account likely errors in model parameters and measurement uncertainties in magnetic resonance imaging." Got that?

What it all means is this. One of the study leaders, Mark Preul, believes that LETKF might just work in the clinical setting. "Though work remains before our approach can be seriously considered in clinical settings, an accurate forecast system for glioblastoma may prove useful for treatment planning and patient counseling," Preul said.

In other words, every cloud has a silver lining.

This work was published in BioMed Central's open access journal Biology Direct.

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Review Date: 
December 23, 2011