Frontier model of tumor growth
Stained p53-mutant cells (dark brown) in
mouse epidermis, from Zhang et al 2001.
|We created a computer model for simulating the growth of a pre-cancerous
lesion (or a tumor) on a surface, such as skin.
We used data from Zhang et al 2001 to test the model.
In that study, mice were exposed to moderate doses of ultraviolet radiation
(UVB) to mimic sun exposure.
It is believed that UVB has the following effects on the skin:
UVB can create p53-mutant cells while
killing surrounding normal cells,
which gives the mutants room to replicate.
Therefore, clones of p53 mutants tend to grow over time under prolonged exposure to UVB.
p53 mutants in skin can be detected by staining, as shown in the figure to the left.
- UVB causes characteristic p53 mutations that inactivate the protein.
- UVB causes cells to undergo cell death (apoptosis).
- p53-mutant cells are resistant to UVB-induced cell death.
|In our computer model of tumor growth, cells are arranged in a hexagonal grid.
Cells are killed at a low rate, which leaves their positions on the
When a cell is killed, the six neighboring cells replicate to fill the
empty space. The first cell to replicate "wins" and copies itself
into that space, while the other cells do nothing.
A single mutant cell is placed on the grid
at the beginning of a simulation.
This mutant may be resistant to being killed or it may replicate
faster in response to the death of a neighboring cell.
Both traits allow the mutant to grow by slowly colonizing adjacent space.
We call this model the frontier model of tumor growth
because a lesion can grow only along its edges, as illustrated in the
figure to the right.
Growth of mutants in this model was consistent with that observed
in mouse skin lesions.
A lesion (blue) can grow only by colonizing
an adjacent space.
What are the features of our computer model?
- Our model simulates the growth of pre-cancerous lesions on a
2-dimensional surface, like skin.
Most previous models assume that they grow exponentially fast or in 3d,
like colon polyps.
Lesions can not grow as quickly across a 2d surface because
there is less room to expand.
- In our model, the tumor grows when the normal cells around it die.
The faster these normal cells are killed, the faster the tumor expands.
In fact, a mutant that does not replicate any faster than normal cells
may still expand if it is resistant to apoptosis.
The implication is that if a person is not exposed to
ultraviolet radiation, the tumors would find it difficult to grow.
Most mathematical models of tumor growth do not include these effects.
- Cells in our model are on a 2d lattice, so the shapes of simulated
lesions can be observed and characterized.
What are potential applications of this work?
- We can used the model to determine how fast pre-cancerous lesions grow.
In Chao et al 2008, we estimated the growth rates of the p53 mutants
observed in Zhang et al 2001.
The probability that a pre-cancerous lesion will become malignant
increases as the lesion becomes larger,
so prediction of lesion growth can help estimate cancer risk.
- We can change the model parameters to simulate different conditions.
For example, we could predict how reducing UVB exposure would slow
the expansion of pre-cancerous p53 mutants.
We have made the source code for the simulations used in
Chao et al 2008 available.
To run this, you need to be able to compile Java source code.
Sun's JDK 6,
and we provide a simple Unix makefile.
Click here to download the zip file containing the source code.
- D. L. Chao, J. T. Eck, D. E. Brash, C. C. Maley, and E. G. Luebeck.
Pre-neoplastic lesion growth driven by the death of adjacent normal stem cells.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(39):15034-9. 2008.
Faculty of 1000 Medicine evaluation
- W. Zhang, E. Remenyik, D. Zelterman, D. E. Brash, and N. M. Wikonkal.
Escaping the stem cell compartment: sustained UVB exposure allows p53-mutant keratinocytes to colonize adjacent epidermal proliferating units without incurring additional mutations,
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(24):13948-53. 2001.
- W. Zhang, A. N. Hanks, K. Boucher, S. R. Florell, S. M. Allen, A. Alexander, D. E. Brash, and D. Grossman. UVB-induced apoptosis drives clonal expansion during skin tumor development. Carcinogenesis, 26(1):249-57, 2005.