Mathematics tracks cancer growth

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Mathematicians at Dundee University have been awarded a European grant of almost €1.7m to develop a virtual model of cancer growth and spread.

Mathematicians at Dundee University have been awarded a European grant of almost €1.7m (£1.5m) to develop a virtual model of cancer growth and spread.

Dundee has long pioneered the use of mathematics to develop models that can predict how cancerous tumours develop, measuring their shape and the speed and spread of growth.

This new project, funded by the European Research Council, will lead to a full ‘virtual cancer’ model, which could be used to assist clinicians in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Prof Mark Chaplain, head of Mathematics at Dundee and the lead researcher in the new project, said: ‘One of the big challenges in addressing cancer treatment is that you can have two patients with the same kind of tumour in the same area of the body, but they will react to it completely differently.’

The factors that contribute to the creation and growth of cancerous cells can all be measured most biological processes in the human body involve many different but interconnected phenomena to which mathematical values can be applied.

Chaplain added: ‘By using applied and computational mathematical techniques to track the many factors involved in cancer growth and spread at the cell level we can develop a virtual model of how cancers can be expected to grow, which would give clinicians another valuable tool in diagnosing and treating individual patients.’

Chaplain and his team will collaborate with researchers in life sciences, medicine and physics at Dundee to develop the new models.

The grant covers five years and will provide seven new posts at the university three post-doctoral research assistants, three PhD students and one research lecturer.

Cancer is one of the major causes of death in the world (particularly the developed world), with around 11 million people diagnosed and around seven million people dying each year. The World Health Organization predicts that current trends show around nine million will die in 2015, with the number rising to 11.5 million in 2030.