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Computer model predicts cancer growth

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A computer simulation predicts the growth of a cancerous tumor. University of California, Irvine mathematician John Lowengrub designed the model to help doctors better understand and treat cancer.

UC IRVINE (US)—A computer model that forecasts tumor growth could help doctors evaluate therapy options for cancer patients—and minimize suffering.

“Most everyone has been touched by the loss of a loved one to cancer,” says John Lowengrub, a mathematics professor at the University of California, Irvine. “I hope my team’s work will bring us closer to controlling this terrible disease.”

In May, Lowengrub published a study in the journal Cancer Research showing that cancer growth is not as erratic as previously thought.

Using a computer model, he predicted tumor changes in part by assessing the environment around the cancer—for example, levels of oxygen and sugar, which feed cancerous cells. Aggressive cells moved to areas with more nutrients, making the tumor unstable and altering its shape. Cancer progression could be determined by tracking these changes, and therapy options could be tailored accordingly, the study found.

The model consistently reproduced cell invasion patterns observed in experiments and patient biopsy samples. Lowengrub hopes doctors someday will use this tool to make better decisions when treating cancer patients.

“Cancer is driven by many factors. Clinical experiments alone are not enough for us to understand its complexities,” Lowengrub says. “Mathematical modeling will play an increasingly important role in the future of health sciences.”

Lowengrub and his team collaborated on the study with scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center, the Cedars-Sinai Cancer Center, and Brown University. The National Science Foundation Division of Mathematical Sciences and the National Institutes of Health supported this work.

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