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Fighting Disease with Disease
Mathematical modeling may help answer
questions about using viruses to treat cancer.
by T.J. BECKER
AMONG EMERGING CANCER TREATMENTS are natural and genetically engineered oncolytic viruses viruses that kill cancer cells while sparing normal cells.
photo by Nicole Cappello
Although fighting cancer using viruses appears promising, there are many unanswered questions, such as how to administer the virus to the tumor. Assistant Professor Joseph Wu is using mathematical models to help advance this type of therapy. (300-dpi JPEG version - 736k)
Although virotherapy appears promising, there are many unanswered questions, such as how to administer the virus to the tumor, says Joseph Wu, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Named a 2003 Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar, Wu is using mathematical models to help advance virotherapy.
courtesy of CDC
Among emerging cancer treatments are natural and genetically engineered oncolytic viruses viruses that kill cancer cells while sparing normal cells. Types of viruses being studied for this use are the 1.) adenovirus, 2.) herpes simplex virus, and 3.) vaccinia virus.
Controlling viral replication and release are among issues that Wu is studying.
“The longer the virus can replicate inside the cell, the larger the burst size, which means more virus particles will be released to infect cancer cells,” Wu explains. “At the same time, the longer the virus replicates inside the cell, the more time the immune system has to clear the infected cell and destroy the unreleased virus particles. We hope that mathematical modeling can help us determine an optimal infection cycle time.”
Wu is also investigating combination treatments using virotherapy or angiogenic inhibitors to enhance traditional radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Angiogenic inhibitors are compounds that kill cancer cells indirectly by blocking the development of new blood vessels supplying the tumor’s nutritional needs.
Although it’s unlikely that angiogenic inhibitors will be powerful enough to be a singular treatment, they might enable doctors to reduce radiotherapy and chemotherapy dosage so patients suffer less.
“Engineers can use mathematical models to help medical researchers see things quantitatively and predict outcomes,” Wu says. “Mathematical modeling doesn’t generate a singular solution, but it’s a powerful tool to help formulate hypotheses and design experiments.”
This is especially true when there is an exponential number of strategies or drugs to analyze. Mathematical modeling is a cost-effective way to narrow down the most promising treatments to take to clinical trials.
“For example, anti-HIV cocktails were designed primarily through use of mathematical models,” Wu says. “Those models helped researchers avoid testing every drug combination in clinical trials. The same approach can be used to design test schedules for combination cancer therapies.”For more information, contact Joseph Wu at 404-894-0054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Last updated: July 7, 2004