Research in the center hinges on the use of microfabrication techniques to create complex habitats that provide an unprecedented ability to manipulate many variables at once and observe how cells respond, allowing the team to determine how different conditions promote or inhibit rapid cancer evolution and tumor formation.
The results they obtain will inform the development of sophisticated computer models that simulate tumor growth and predict how and when certain tumors might invade surrounding tissue. Data obtained from these simulations will, in turn, suggest new questions to ask and explore.
"One ambitious goal is the creation of an 'in silico' growing tumor, meaning a realistic model on the computer, which could suggest new experiments, test new hypotheses, predict behavior in experimentally unobservable situations, and be employed for early detection," said team member Salvatore Torquato, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, and the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. "As you go back and forth to refine the experiments and the theoretical models, you're coming to a real understanding of cancer. And that is what we'd ultimately like to do."
The experimental microhabitats, being developed jointly between the labs of Austin and James Sturm, a professor of electrical engineering and the director of the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, are constructed on chips of silicon or polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based plastic. Featuring a series of wells just 10 to 100
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