Math, the Ultimate Cancer Fighter

Cancer treatment using mathematical modeling

(RxWiki News) We live in an increasingly data driven era, where the judgment of your doctor comes from thousands of patients with similar symptoms.

Today, computer models of specific cancers are available, improving predictions about every aspect of the disease.

A group of researchers is beginning to use elements of pure mathematical modeling in applied medical research with impressive results.

Making sense out of the chaos of very complex biological patterns came naturally to the team of mathematicians, and they continue to produce applications for their computer modeled simulation of tumors.

"Ask your oncologist about statistical models of your cancer."

Papers recently published by the Integrated Mathematical Oncology department at the Moffitt Cancer Center have produced accurate models of brain cancer interacting with the cellular environment on the molecular level, giving researchers unprecedented levels of information to develop better drugs and have more information to treat their patients with.

So far, computer models have accurately predicted growth rate and severity in the brain cancers known as gliomas and glioblastomas in patients.

The head of the Integrated Mathematical Oncology department, Alexander Anderson PhD, spoke about the use of mathematical modeling in cancer.

“Cancer is a complex disease driven by interactions between tumor cells and the tumor’s microenvironment,” Anderson said. “By developing mathematical models that describe how tumors grow and respond to changes in their surroundings (such as treatment), we can better understand how an individual patient might respond to a whole suite of different therapies.”

One of the doctors involved with the oncology department, Robert Gatenby, MD, spoke about how the mathematical models can be used to bring to life other data from cancer patients, such as MRI or CT scans.

“Imaging noninvasively captures tumor changes, and the mathematical models, which are much more rigorous than language, can then be used in cancer research,” Dr. Gatenby stated.

Advances in unusual, stodgy fields like chaos theory and fractals may seem of little practical use, but the universal language of mathematics means that little-used physics equations have surprising amounts of relevance to cancer development.

Borrowed mathematical formulas and geometrical designs can predict with success how blood vessels in a tumor will grow, for instance.

The computer models are easier to test future areas of investigation for chemotherapy drugs, or especially some of the newer classes of drugs that affect different parts of the cell. While data from computer modeling isn't perfect, computer-aided design may shave years off of drug development, and lead to rapid breakthroughs.

With more and more information about cancers being collected, and with input from the specific genetics of a cancer, soon doctors may be able to tell about your tumor's growth before it happens, and use that information to treat it aggressively before it metastasizes.

“By incorporating specific information about a patient, such as the size of their tumor, the treatments they have had, the organ that the cancer is growing in, we can predict forward in time how the tumor will grow, shrink, and respond to different combinations of therapies. "

"By the results of imaging, biological experiments and mathematical models, we are leading the world in patient-specific medicine,” Dr. Anderson stated.

Moffitt Cancer Center's Integrated Mathematical Oncology department uses the computer modeling to take data from imaging tests and use blood vessel growth to predict changes on the molecular level, including future growth and level of aggression. This enables doctors to predict, within reason, overall prognosis and metastasis.

This research was published on December 15 in the journal Cancer Research

Review Date: 
May 9, 2012