This paper discusses the need for interconnecting computational cancer models from different sources and scales within clinically relevant scenarios to increase the accuracy of the models and speed up their clinical adaptation, validation, and eventual translation. We briefly review current interoperability efforts drawing upon our experiences with the development of in silico models for predictive oncology within a number of European Commission Virtual Physiological Human initiative projects on cancer. A clinically relevant scenario, addressing brain tumor modeling that illustrates the need for coupling models from different sources and levels of complexity, is described. General approaches to enabling interoperability using XML-based markup languages for biological modeling are reviewed, concluding with a discussion on efforts towards developing cancer-specific XML markup to couple multiple component models for predictive in silico oncology.
multi-scale computational tumor modeling; in silico oncology; model interoperability; XML markup languages
Applying a previously developed non-small cell lung cancer model, we assess ‘cross-scale’ the therapeutic efficacy of targeting a variety of molecular components of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signalling pathway. Simulation of therapeutic inhibition and amplification allows for the ranking of the implemented downstream EGFR signalling molecules according to their therapeutic values or indices. Analysis identifies mitogen-activated protein kinase and extracellular signal-regulated kinase as top therapeutic targets for both inhibition and amplification-based treatment regimen but indicates that combined parameter perturbations do not necessarily improve the therapeutic effect of the separate parameter treatments as much as might be expected. Potential future strategies using this in silico model to tailor molecular treatment regimen are discussed.
agent-based model; multiscale; non-small cell lung cancer; epidermal growth factor receptor; transforming growth factor β; signalling pathway
Multiscale modeling is increasingly being recognized as a promising research area in computational cancer systems biology. Here, exemplified by two pioneering studies, we attempt to explain why and how such a multiscale approach paired with an innovative cross-scale analytical technique can be useful in identifying high-value molecular therapeutic targets. This novel, integrated approach has the potential to offer a more effective in silico framework for target discovery and represents an important technical step towards systems medicine.
computational modeling; multiscale; epidermal growth factor receptor; non-small cell lung cancer; signaling pathway
At the dawn of the era of personalized, systems-driven medicine, computational or in silico modeling and the simulation of disease processes is becoming increasingly important for hypothesis generation and data integration in both experiment and clinics alike. Arguably, this is nowhere more visible than in oncology. To illustrate the field’s vast potential as well as its current limitations we briefly review selected works on modeling malignant brain tumors. Implications for clinical practice, including trial design and outcome prediction are also discussed.
brain tumor; computational biology; in silico cancer modeling; systems biology
To date, parameters defining biological properties in multiscale disease models are commonly obtained from a variety of sources. It is thus important to examine the influence of parameter perturbations on system behavior, rather than to limit the model to a specific set of parameters. Such sensitivity analysis can be used to investigate how changes in input parameters affect model outputs. However, multiscale cancer models require special attention because they generally take longer to run than does a series of signaling pathway analysis tasks. In this article, we propose a global sensitivity analysis method based on the integration of Monte Carlo, resampling, and analysis of variance. This method provides solutions to (1) how to render the large number of parameter variation combinations computationally manageable, and (2) how to effectively quantify the sampling distribution of the sensitivity index to address the inherent computational intensity issue. We exemplify the feasibility of this method using a two-dimensional molecular-microscopic agent-based model previously developed for simulating non-small cell lung cancer; in this model, an epidermal growth factor (EGF)-induced, EGF receptor-mediated signaling pathway was implemented at the molecular level. Here, the cross-scale effects of molecular parameters on two tumor growth evaluation measures, i.e., tumor volume and expansion rate, at the microscopic level are assessed. Analysis finds that ERK, a downstream molecule of the EGF receptor signaling pathway, has the most important impact on regulating both measures. The potential to apply this method to therapeutic target discovery is discussed.
agent-based model; analysis of variance; multiscale; non-small cell lung cancer; sensitivity analysis
We present a multiscale agent-based non-small cell lung cancer model that consists of a 3D environment with which cancer cells interact while processing phenotypic changes. At the molecular level, transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) has been integrated into our previously developed in silico model as a second extrinsic input in addition to epidermal growth factor (EGF). The main aim of this study is to investigate how the effects of individual and combinatorial change in EGF and TGFβ concentrations at the molecular level alter tumor growth dynamics on the multi-cellular level, specifically tumor volume and expansion rate. Our simulation results show that separate EGF and TGFβ fluctuations trigger competing multi-cellular phenotypes, yet synchronous EGF and TGFβ signaling yields a spatially more aggressive tumor that overall exhibits an EGF-driven phenotype. By altering EGF and TGFβ concentration levels simultaneously and asynchronously, we discovered a particular region of EGF-TGFβ profiles that ensures phenotypic stability of the tumor system. Within this region, concentration changes in EGF and TGFβ do not impact the resulting multi-cellular response substantially, while outside these concentration ranges, a change at the molecular level will substantially alter either tumor volume or tumor expansion rate, or both. By evaluating tumor growth dynamics across different scales, we show that, under certain conditions, therapeutic targeting of only one signaling pathway may be insufficient. Potential implications of these in silico results for future clinico-pharmacological applications are discussed.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
The world wide web has furthered the emergence of a multitude of online expert communities. Continued progress on many of the remaining complex scientific questions requires a wide ranging expertise spectrum with access to a variety of distinct data types. Moving beyond peer-to-peer to community-to-community interaction is therefore one of the biggest challenges for global interdisciplinary Life Sciences research, including that of cancer. Cross-domain data query, access, and retrieval will be important innovation areas to enable and facilitate this interaction in the coming years.
Life Sciences; web community; data-sharing
In advancing discrete-based computational cancer models towards clinical applications, one faces the dilemma of how to deal with an ever growing amount of biomedical data that ought to be incorporated eventually in one form or another. Model scalability becomes of paramount interest. In an effort to start addressing this critical issue, here, we present a novel multi-scale and multi-resolution agent-based in silico glioma model. While ‘multi-scale’ refers to employing an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-driven molecular network to process cellular phenotypic decisions within the micro-macroscopic environment, ‘multi-resolution’ is achieved through algorithms that classify cells to either active or inactive spatial clusters, which determine the resolution they are simulated at. The aim is to assign computational resources where and when they matter most for maintaining or improving the predictive power of the algorithm, onto specific tumor areas and at particular times. Using a previously described 2D brain tumor model, we have developed four different computational methods for achieving the multi-resolution scheme, three of which are designed to dynamically train on the high-resolution simulation that serves as control. To quantify the algorithms’ performance, we rank them by weighing the distinct computational time savings of the simulation runs versus the methods’ ability to accurately reproduce the high-resolution results of the control. Finally, to demonstrate the flexibility of the underlying concept, we show the added value of combining the two highest-ranked methods. The main finding of this work is that by pursuing a multi-resolution approach, one can reduce the computation time of a discrete-based model substantially while still maintaining a comparably high predictive power. This hints at even more computational savings in the more realistic 3D setting over time, and thus appears to outline a possible path to achieve scalability for the all-important clinical translation.
glioma; epidermal growth factor receptor; agent-based model; multi-scale; multi-resolution
Aberrantly regulated cell motility is a hallmark of cancer cells. A hybrid agent-based model has been developed to investigate the synergistic and antagonistic cell motility-impacting effects of three microenvironment variables simultaneously: chemoattraction, haptotactic permission, and biomechanical constraint or resistance. Reflecting distinct cell-specific intracellular machinery, the cancer cells are modelled as processing a variety of spatial search strategies that respond to these three influencing factors with differential weights attached to each. While responding exclusively to chemoattraction optimizes cell displacement effectiveness, incorporating permission and resistance components becomes increasingly important with greater distance to the chemoattractant source and/or after reducing the ligand’s effective diffusion coefficient. Extending this to a heterogeneous population of cells shows that displacement effectiveness increases with clonal diversity as characterized by the Shannon index. However, the resulting data can be fit best to an exponential function, suggesting that there is a level of population heterogeneity beyond which its added value to the cancer system becomes minimal as directionality ceases to increase. Possible experimental extensions and potential clinical implications are discussed.
cancer; agent-based model; cell migration; search optimization
We have extended our previously developed 3D multi-scale agent-based brain tumor model to simulate cancer heterogeneity and to analyze its impact across the scales of interest. While our algorithm continues to employ an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene-protein interaction network to determine the cells’ phenotype, it now adds an implicit treatment of tumor cell adhesion related to the model’s biochemical microenvironment. We simulate a simplified tumor progression pathway that leads to the emergence of five distinct glioma cell clones with different EGFR density and cell ‘search precisions’. The in silico results show that microscopic tumor heterogeneity can impact the tumor system’s multicellular growth patterns. Our findings further confirm that EGFR density results in the more aggressive clonal populations switching earlier from proliferation-dominated to a more migratory phenotype. Moreover, analyzing the dynamic molecular profile that triggers the phenotypic switch between proliferation and migration, our in silico oncogenomics data display spatial and temporal diversity in documenting the regional impact of tumorigenesis, and thus support the added value of multi-site and repeated assessments in vitro and in vivo. Potential implications from this in silico work for experimental and computational studies are discussed.
glioma; epidermal growth factor receptor; cancer heterogeneity; agent-based model
The argument is made that solid malignant tumors behave as profit-driven biological systems in that they expand their nutrient-uptaking surface to increase energetic revenue, at a comparably low metabolic cost. Within this conceptual framework, cancer cell migration is a critical mechanism as it maximizes systemic surface expansion while minimizing diffusion distance. Treating these tumor systems with adjuvant anti-proliferative regimen only should increase the energetic net gain of the viable cancer cells left behind, hence would facilitate tumor recurrence. Therapeutic attempts to better control tumor (re)growth should therefore aim primarily at containing its surface expansion, thus reducing its energetic revenue, or increasing its metabolic costs or better yet, both.
Cell growth critically depends on signalling pathways whose regulation is the focus of intense research. Without utilizing a priori knowledge of the relative importance of pathway components, we have applied in silico computational methods to the EGF-induced MAPK cascade. Specifically, we systematically perturbed the entire parameter space, including initial conditions, using a Monte Carlo approach, and investigate which protein components or kinetic reaction steps contribute to the differentiation of ERK responses. The model, based on previous work by Brightman and Fell (2000), is composed of 28 reactions, 27 protein molecules, and 48 parameters from both mass action and Michaelis-Menten kinetics. Our multi-parametric systems analysis confirms that Raf inactivation is one of the key steps regulating ERK responses to be either transient or sustained. Furthermore, the results of amplitude-differential ERK phosphorylations within the transient case are mainly attributed to the balance between activation and inactivation of Ras while duration-differential ERK responses for the sustained case are, in addition to Ras, markedly affected by dephospho-/phosphorylation of both MEK and ERK. Our sub-module perturbations showed that MEK and ERK's contribution to this differential ERK activation originates from fluctuations in intermediate pathway module components such as Ras and Raf, implicating a cooperative regulatory mode among the key components. The initial protein concentrations of corresponding reactions such as Ras, GAP, and Raf also influence the distinct signalling outputs of ERK activation. We then compare these results with those obtained from a single-parametric perturbation approach using an overall state sensitivity (OSS) analysis. The OSS findings indicate a more pronounced role of ERK's inhibitory feedback effect on catalysing the dissociation of the SOS complex. Both approaches reveal the presence of multiple specific reactions involved in the distinct dynamics of ERK responses and the cell fate decisions they trigger. This work adds a mechanistic insight of the contribution of key pathway components, thus may support the identification of biomarkers for pharmaceutical drug discovery processes.
Cancer expansion depends on host organ conditions that permit growth. Since such microenvironmental nourishment is limited we argue here that an autologous, therapeutically engineered and faster metabolizing cell strain could potentially out-compete native cancer cell populations for available resources which in turn should contain further cancer growth. This hypothesis aims on turning cancer progression, and its microenvironmental dependency, into a therapeutic opportunity. To illustrate our concept, we developed a three-dimensional computational model that allowed us to investigate the growth dynamics of native tumor cells mixed with genetically engineered cells that exhibit a higher proliferation rate. The simulation results confirm in silico efficacy of such therapeutic cells to combating cancer cells on site in that they can indeed control tumor growth once their proliferation rate exceeds a certain level. While intriguing from a theoretical perspective, this bold, innovative ecology-driven concept bears some significant challenges that warrant critical discussion in the community for further refinement.
Sensitivity analysis is an effective tool for systematically identifying specific perturbations in parameters that have significant effects on the behavior of a given biosystem, at the scale investigated. In this work, using a two-dimensional, multiscale non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) model, we examine the effects of perturbations in system parameters which span both molecular and cellular levels, i.e. across scales of interest. This is achieved by first linking molecular and cellular activities and then assessing the influence of parameters at the molecular level on the tumor’s spatio-temporal expansion rate, which serves as the output behavior at the cellular level. Overall, the algorithm operated reliably over relatively large variations of most parameters, hence confirming the robustness of the model. However, three pathway components (proteins PKC, MEK, and ERK) and eleven reaction steps were determined to be of critical importance by employing a sensitivity coefficient as an evaluation index. Each of these sensitive parameters exhibited a similar changing pattern in that a relatively larger increase or decrease in its value resulted in a lesser influence on the system’s cellular performance. This study provides a novel cross-scaled approach to analyzing sensitivities of computational model parameters and proposes its application to interdisciplinary biomarker studies.
agent-based model; cellular behavior; epidermal growth factor; expansion rate; non-small cell lung cancer; sensitivity analysis
The World Wide Web has revolutionized how researchers from various disciplines collaborate over long distances. This is nowhere more important than in the Life Sciences, where interdisciplinary approaches are becoming increasingly powerful as a driver of both integration and discovery. Data access, data quality, identity, and provenance are all critical ingredients to facilitate and accelerate these collaborative enterprises and it is here where Semantic Web technologies promise to have a profound impact. This paper reviews the need for, and explores advantages of as well as challenges with these novel Internet information tools as illustrated with examples from the biomedical community.
AJAX; OWL; RDF; Semantic Web; SPARQL; Web 2.0
It is conventional strategy to treat highly malignant brain tumors initially with cytoreductive surgery followed by adjuvant radio- and chemotherapy. However, in spite of all such efforts, the patients' prognosis remains dismal since residual glioma cells continue to infiltrate adjacent parenchyma and the tumors almost always recur. On the basis of a simple biomechanical conjecture that we have introduced previously, we argue here that by affecting the 'volume-pressure' relationship and minimizing surface tension of the remaining tumor cells, gross total resection may have an inductive effect on the invasiveness of the tumor cells left behind. Potential implications for treatment strategies are discussed.
Highly malignant gliomas are characterized by rapid growth, extensive local tissue infiltration and the resulting overall dismal clinical outcome. Gaining any additional insights into the complex interaction between this aggressive brain tumor and its microenvironment is therefore critical. Currently, the standard imaging modalities to investigate the crucial interface between tumor growth and invasion in vitro are light and confocal laser scanning microscopy. While immensely useful in cell culture, integrating these modalities with this cancer's clinical imaging method of choice, i.e. MRI, is a non-trivial endeavour. However, this integration is necessary, should advanced computational modeling be able to utilize these in vitro data to eventually predict growth behaviour in vivo. We therefore argue that employing the same imaging modality for both the experimental setting and the clinical situation it represents should have significant value from a data integration perspective. In this case study, we have investigated the feasibility of using a specific form of MRI, i.e. magnetic resonance microscopy or MRM, to study the expansion dynamics of a multicellular tumor spheroid in a collagen type I gel.
An U87mEGFR human giloblastoma multicellular spheroid (MTS) containing approximately 4·103 cells was generated and pipetted into a collagen I gel. The sample was then imaged using a T2-weighted 3D spoiled gradient echo pulse sequence on a 14T MRI scanner over a period of 12 hours with a temporal resolution of 3 hours at room temperature. Standard histopathology was performed on the MRM sample, as well as on control samples.
We were able to acquire three-dimensional MR images with a spatial resolution of 24 × 24 × 24 μm3. Our MRM data successfully documented the volumetric growth dynamics of an MTS in a collagen I gel over the 12-hour period. The histopathology results confirmed cell viability in the MRM sample, yet displayed distinct patterns of cell proliferation and invasion as compared to control.
In this study, we demonstrate that a specific form of MRI, i.e. magnetic resonance microscopy or MRM, can be used to study the dynamic growth of a multicellular tumor spheroid (MTS) with a single cell scale spatial resolution that approaches the level of light microscopy. We argue that MRM can be employed as a complementary non-invasive tool to characterize microscopic MTS expansion, and thus, together with integrative computational modeling, may allow bridging of the experimental and clinical scales more readily.
Assuming that there is feedback between an expanding cancer system and its organ-typical microenvironment, we argue here that such local tumor growth is initially guided by co-existence rather than competition with the surrounding tissue. We then present a novel concept that understands cancer dissemination as a biological mechanism to evade the specific carrying capacity limit of its host organ. This conceptual framework allows us to relate the tumor system's volumetric growth rate to the host organ's functionality-conveying composite infrastructure, and, intriguingly, already provides useful insights into several clinical findings.
Cancer; metastasis; carrying capacity; coexistence
The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is frequently overexpressed in many cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In silico modeling is considered to be an increasingly promising tool to add useful insights into the dynamics of the EGFR signal transduction pathway. However, most of the previous modeling work focused on the molecular or the cellular level only, neglecting the crucial feedback between these scales as well as the interaction with the heterogeneous biochemical microenvironment.
We developed a multiscale model for investigating expansion dynamics of NSCLC within a two-dimensional in silico microenvironment. At the molecular level, a specific EGFR-ERK intracellular signal transduction pathway was implemented. Dynamical alterations of these molecules were used to trigger phenotypic changes at the cellular level. Examining the relationship between extrinsic ligand concentrations, intrinsic molecular profiles and microscopic patterns, the results confirmed that increasing the amount of available growth factor leads to a spatially more aggressive cancer system. Moreover, for the cell closest to nutrient abundance, a phase-transition emerges where a minimal increase in extrinsic ligand abolishes the proliferative phenotype altogether.
Our in silico results indicate that in NSCLC, in the presence of a strong extrinsic chemotactic stimulus (and depending on the cell's location) downstream EGFR-ERK signaling may be processed more efficiently, thereby yielding a migration-dominant cell phenotype and overall, an accelerated spatio-temporal expansion rate.
Integrative cancer biology research relies on a variety of data-driven computational modeling and simulation methods and techniques geared towards gaining new insights into the complexity of biological processes that are of critical importance for cancer research. These include the dynamics of gene-protein interaction networks, the percolation of sub-cellular perturbations across scales and the impact they may have on tumorigenesis in both experiments and clinics. Such innovative ‘systems’ research will greatly benefit from enabling Information Technology that is currently under development, including an online collaborative environment, a Semantic Web based computing platform that hosts data and model repositories as well as high-performance computing access. Here, we present one of the National Cancer Institute’s recently established Integrative Cancer Biology Programs, i.e. the Center for the Development of a Virtual Tumor, CViT, which is charged with building a cancer modeling community, developing the aforementioned enabling technologies and fostering multi-scale cancer modeling and simulation.
Cancer; complexity; systems biology; multi-scale computational tumor modeling; semantic layered research platform; digital model repository
Tissue invasion, one of the hallmarks of cancer, is a major clinical problem. Recent studies suggest that the process of invasion is driven at least in part by a set of physical forces that may be susceptible to mathematical modelling which could have practical clinical value.
Model and conclusion
We present an analogy between two unrelated instabilities. One is caused by the impact of a drop of water on a solid surface while the other concerns a tumor that develops invasive cellular branches into the surrounding host tissue. In spite of the apparent abstractness of the idea, it yields a very practical result, i.e. an index that predicts tumor invasion based on a few measurable parameters. We discuss its application in the context of experimental data and suggest potential clinical implications.