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Contact: Dr. Hilary Glover
hilary.glover@biomedcentral.com
44-020-319-22370
BioMed Central

Modeling cancer using ecological principles

The invasion of a new species into an established ecosystem can be directly compared to the steps involved in cancer metastasis. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling uses the Tilman model of competition between invasive species to study the metastasis of prostate cells into bone.

Approximately 40,000 men a year in the US who have apparently successful surgery or radiotherapy for prostate cancer will suffer incurable metastasis of their disease in bone. The prostate cells invade the bone marrow and, sometimes after years of remaining dormant, compete with hematopoietic stem cells and take over the bone microenvironment.

The Tilman model examines various components of invasion of species into an environment. Kun-Wan Chen and Kenneth J. Pienta from the University of Michigan substituted steps in cancer progression into the Tilman equations. After initially multiplying and undergoing genetic mutation (equivalent to evolution) within the prostate, the cancer cells leave the prostate and enter the circulation. The next step is a period of survival in circulation followed by invasion into bone.

Once in the bone there is a 'lag period' while the cells establish themselves. Eventually, the cancer cells begin to multiply and out-compete the hematopoietic stem cells. Kun-Wan Chen explained, "The invading cancer cells could be thought of as several species, and the fittest mutants become dominant and multiply. Eventually there is a massive impact on the biosphere (human host)."

Prof Pienta continued, "Devastating ecological invasions are well known. For example introduction of domestic animals to Mauritius resulted in extinction of the dodo and Caulerpa taxifolia, a mutated killer algae, is plaguing the Mediterranean. Cancer metastasis follows a similar path to that of ecological invasions and our adaptation of the Tilman equations shows how invading cancer cells can destroy the normal body habitat. Use of ecological modeling can help us understand the complex biology of metastasis."

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Notes to Editors

1. Modeling invasion of metastasizing cancer cells to bone marrow utilizing ecological principles
Kun-Wan Chen and Kenneth J Pienta
Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling
(in press)

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication.

2. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling (TBioMed) is an open access, peer-reviewed, online journal adopting a broad definition of "biology" and focusing on theoretical ideas and models associated with developments in biology and medicine.

3. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.



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