Understanding cancer cell movement

Paolo Provenzano and David Odde

A major barrier to stopping brain cancer has been the inability to closely observe cell migration in the brain.

That’s why David Odde, Ph.D., member of the U’s biomedical engineering faculty and recipient of Masonic pilot funding, is using a new approach that blends physics and math modeling to identify precisely how cells move.

With early support from the Masons, which helped leverage an $8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, Odde and his team have built a cell migration simulator to predict the movement of cancer cells.

They hope it will help answer questions such as “what propels cells forward?” or “what makes them move faster or slower?” and, ultimately, shed light on how cells can be stopped or slowed.

So far, Odde’s team has used the simulator to capture cell migration dynamics in mice with a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma, laying the groundwork for testing it in people.

“Our 1.0 version of the simulator made powerful predictions that we tested and found to be true,” says Odde. “Next we want to take patient-derived cells and see if we can predict how they’ll progress.”

“Investigators really need to have this kind of funding available when they’re trying to do something new, because new ideas don’t always fit into existing federal funding programs. Philanthropy really encourages and enables innovation.”

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