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Researchers in Canada are using advanced mathematical models to fight cancer. By developing strategies to make cancer cells sensitive to viral infection, they are successful in protecting healthy cells while killing cancer cells.

The fight against cancer continues unabated as it remains the second leading cause of death worldwide — and researchers are continuously looking for new methods and new drugs to combat the disease.  We have all heard of new chemotherapeutic drugs developed to fight cancer, as well as novel and exciting treatments such as proton beam therapy, but until recently, no one would have believed that math could destroy cancer. You will certainly wonder how it is possible. Should you pay attention to math? 

Canadian researchers have revealed that advanced mathematical models are effective in fighting cancer.

The study authors, Dr. Bell and Dr. Mads Kaern along with their research team established a mathematical model that described an infectious process and how virus replicated, spread, and activated the body’s cellular defense mechanisms.  The research findings were published in the journal Nature Communications recently.  Nature Communications is a weekly peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Nature Publishing Group.

A Collaboration Between Mathematicians and Biologists

The study was a very rare collaboration between mathematicians who are experts in computer modeling and cancer researchers who are biologists.  Cancer researchers and applied mathematicians had never collaborated successfully prior to this study and were able to model one type of cancer cell and one type of virus.  Future plans include collaborating with researchers in New York City who have been exploring increasing the potency of oncolytic viruses

Both cancer cells and normal cells are designed to protect themselves from invading cells by an inbuilt defense mechanism, and compromising their immunity.  By differentiating the main physiological differences within normal and cancerous cells, they recognized that modifying the virus genome might counter the anti-viral defense mechanism in cancer cells.  The focus is on the viability and potency of oncolytic viruses, which are artificial and target the cancerous cells only.  The cancer cells grow rapidly and they must be killed quickly before they spread. 

The mathematical model was successful in copying a viral infection along with the resistance the cancer cells put up.  The genetics of the virus was modified to attack only cancer cells at a speed that can destroy them as quickly as possible before they get a chance to build up any defense mechanism against potential harm.  The model prediction was 100 percent accurate and successful in destroying cancer cells in mice

The mathematical model that was conceptualized by the researchers described an infection process, how the virus multiplies, spreads, and activates cellular defense mechanisms.  Interestingly, the model simulations were accurate to a large extent and successfully eliminated cancer in a mouse. 

Dr. Bell, the study author, noted, "Unfortunately, cancer is a very complicated and diverse disease, and some viruses work well in some circumstances and not well in others.  As a result, there has been a lot of effort in trying to modify the viruses to make them safe, so they don't target healthy tissue and yet are more efficient in eliminating cancer cells.”  Dr. Bell works as a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.  He is also a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine

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