Research Report: Mathematical modeling to predict lung cancer spread

Research Report

By Lynne Friedmann

The same sort of mathematical model used to predict which websites people are most apt to visit shows promise in mapping how lung cancer spreads in the human body. Employing a sophisticated system of mathematical equations known as a Markov chain model, researchers found that metastatic lung cancer does not progress in a single direction from primary tumor site to distant locations, which has been the traditional medical view. Instead, they found that cancer cell movement around the body likely occurs in more than one direction at a time.

Researchers also learned that the first site to which the cells spread plays a key role in the progression of the disease. The study showed that some parts of the body serve as “sponges” that are relatively unlikely to further spread lung cancer cells. Other areas were identified as “spreaders” for lung cancer cells.

The research team includes experts from the University of Southern California , Scripps Clinic, The Scripps Research Institute, UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York.

The study appears in the journal

Cancer Research

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• Pinning down pain

An international team of scientists, led by UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers, says a key protein in Schwann cells — the supporting cells of the peripheral nervous system — performs a critical, perhaps overarching, role in regulating the recovery of peripheral nerves after injury. The discovery has implications for improving the treatment of neuropathic pain, a mysterious form of chronic pain that afflicts over 100 million Americans.

Neuropathic pain occurs when peripheral nerve fibers (those outside of the brain and spinal cord) are damaged or dysfunctional, resulting in incorrect signals sent to the brain. Perceived pain sensations are frequently likened to ongoing burning, coldness, or “pins and needles.”

Efforts to explain the causes and mechanisms of neuropathic pain have focused upon peripheral nerve cells themselves. The new study points to a surprisingly critical role for Schwann cells, which release a protein with signal-blocking, anti-inflammatory properties.

When deficient Schwann cells failed to produce this protein, impaired neurons remain impaired and acute damage may transition to become chronic damage and lasting neuropathic pain for which there is currently no effective treatment.

The findings appear in the

Journal of Neuroscience

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• A better predictive fisheries model

In the early 1940s, the California sardine fishery utterly crashed and researchers are still seeking the answer as to why. For decades the practice in ecosystem studies has been to look at one factor at a time (such as climate change or overfishing). Unfortunately this piecemeal approach of viewing data in isolation can lead to misguided conclusions.

A new study led out of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego concludes the forces behind the sardine mystery are a dynamic and interconnected moving target. They used a mathematical technique, developed at Scripps, called “convergent cross mapping” which takes multiple variables into account thus avoiding misleading, or “mirage,” determination.

Mirages occur when variables spontaneously come and go or even switch from positive to negative. Ecosystems are notorious for doing this. By contrast, convergent cross mapping avoids the mirage issue by seeking evidence from dynamic linkages between factors, rather than one-to-one statistical correlations.

The findings appear in the

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.