Mathematics reveals genetic pattern of tumor growth

Jun 21, 2007

Using mathematical theory, UC Irvine scientists have shed light on one of cancer’s most troubling puzzles -- how cancer cells can alter their own genetic makeup to accelerate tumor growth. The discovery shows for the first time why this change occurs, providing insight into how cancerous tumors thrive and a potential foundation for future cancer treatments.

UCI mathematicians Natalia Komarova, Alexander Sadovsky and Frederic Wan looked at cancer from the point of view of a tumor and asked: What can a tumor do to optimize its own growth" They focused on the phenomenon of genetic instability, a common feature of cancer in which cells mutate at an abnormally fast rate. These mutations can cause cancer cells to grow, or they can cause the cells to die.

The scientists found that cancerous tumors grow best when they are very unstable in early stages of development and become stable in later stages. In other words, tumors thrive when cancerous cells mutate to speed up malignant transformation, and then stay that way by turning off the mutation rate.

The study appeared this week in the Royal Society journal Interface.

“Mathematical theory can help us understand cancer,” said Komarova, associate professor of mathematics at UCI. “If we know what cancer is doing, we might be able to find ways to fight it.”

Previous studies have observed this genetic pattern by using laboratory techniques, but the UCI research is the first to explain why the pattern leads to tumor growth. The occurrence of genetic instability is often debated by cancer scientists, some of whom believe that cancer feeds on this instability and others who believe it is a side-effect of the cancer itself.

To determine the pattern of genetic changes that leads to the most robust tumor growth, Komarova and her colleagues used a mathematical technique called optimal control theory in which they considered a tumor with set characteristics, then changed the cell mutation variable to see under which circumstances the tumor grew best.

“The mutation rate serves as the control knob. Then, we can calculate mathematically how long it takes a tumor with given parameters to reach a certain size,” Komarova said. “We found that at early stages of tumor growth, instability is advantageous, and later on it becomes an impediment. This explains why many tumors exhibit a high level of instability at first, and become stable later in their development.”

Source: University of California - Irvine

Explore further: Decision cascades in social networks

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

World's oldest penguin undergoes cancer radiation

Dec 12, 2014

A toddler on Tuesday peered through thick glass as Tess – the world's oldest African penguin, representing an endangered species set to vanish in the child's lifetime – dove into her pool at the Pueblo Zoo. It was the ...

Recommended for you

All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

Dec 24, 2014

We're enjoying the one time of year when protests of "I can't sing!" are laid aside and we sing carols with others. For some this is a once-a-year special event; the rest of the year is left to the professionals ...

Fish eye sheds light on color vision

Dec 23, 2014

A fish eye from a primitive time when Earth was but one single continent, has yielded evidence of color vision dating back at least 300 million years, researchers said Tuesday.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.