Cancer's no game, but researchers at Johns Hopkins are borrowing ideas from evolutionary game theory to learn how cells cooperate within a tumor to gather energy. Their experiments, they say, could identify the ideal time to disrupt metastatic cancer cell cooperation and make a tumor more vulnerable to anti-cancer drugs.
"The reality is that we still can't cure metastatic cancer that has spread from its primary organ and game theory adds to our efforts to attack the problem," says Kenneth J. Pienta, M.D., the Donald S. Coffey Professor of Urology at the Johns Hopkins Brady Urological Institute, and director of the Prostate Cancer Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. A description of the work appears in a June 20 report in the journal Interface Focus.
Game theory is a mathematical study of strategic decision-making, and has been widely used to predict conflict and cooperation between individuals and even nations, but increasingly is applied to forecasting cell-to-cell interactions in biology with an ecological perspective. Tumors contain a variety of cells shifting between cooperative-like to competitive-like states, said Ardeshir Kianercy, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Pienta's lab. "To study tumor cells in isolation is not enough," he noted. "It makes sense to study their behavior and relationship with other cells and how they co-evolve together."
In their research, the Johns Hopkins scientists used mathematical and computer tools to set up game parameters based on biological interactions between two types of tumor cells, one oxygen-rich and the other oxygen-poor. Cells within a tumor engage in different types of energy metabolism depending on how close they are to an oxygen-rich blood supply. Tumor cells in oxygen-poor areas use the sugar glucose to produce energy and, as part of the process, release a compound called lactate. Oxygen-rich cells use this lactate in a different type of energy metabolism
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Johns Hopkins Medicine