A mathematical model to strategize an innovative cure for cancer has been developed by mathematicians at South Dakota State University.
Assistant professor Matt Biesecker from SDSU's Department of Mathematics and Statistics said the project has to do with Mayo Clinic Cancer Center physicians' plan to use a modified measles virus against some forms of cancer.
Mayo researchers have used bioengineering techniques to make a modified measles virus that will preferentially infect cancer cells instead of the cells the virus would ordinarily target.
The SDSU role so far has been helping Mayo researchers adjust their working mathematical model to simulate treatment plans. That work can help Mayo scientists figure out timing of treatments, for example, and how large or small doses of virus affect the growth of tumors.
"What we have been working on is a more complicated and more accurate mathematical model. It would take into account the multiple spatial scales that are involved. Viruses are very small in scale compared to the size of the tumor cell. The current model does not take that into account."
The mathematical model could help researchers in the process of designing viruses to target cancer. For example, it could help them understand how likely a particular virus is to infect a tumor cell versus a normal cell, how quickly the virus would replicate within an infected cell, and how quickly an infected cancer cell would die.
"There are certain key characteristics the Mayo researchers want their viruses to have," Biesecker said. "What mathematical modeling has allowed them to understand is which of these characteristics plays a dominant role in reducing the tumor cell population. Ultimately their goal is to find an effective treatment. It's not just an intellectual exercise."
Surprisingly, the model also predicts that it is less costly to treat larger tumors than small ones. Scientists are still trying to determine why.
In the next mathematical model, Biesecker said, SDSU scientists hope to simulate the behavior of individual cells, giving Mayo scientists greater insight into how viruses can be used against cancer.
The project was published in late 2009 in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.