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Math Science

Fighting Cancer with Math 263

Posted by Zonk
from the what-can't-math-do? dept.
zoloback writes "A group of scientists have developed a mathematical method to fight certain forms of cancer. The study has taken the team several years, but the first trial on a human has been successful. You can read the actual paper. It looks like a huge advancement in science, because there's a possibility to extrapolate the method to other types of cancer" From the article: "The researchers have evidence to show that all tumors grow in the same way, irrespective of the tissue or species in which they develop. In a previous paper, these researchers reported that tumor growth, rather than being exponential as commonly believed, is a much slower "linear" process similar to the growth of certain crystals and other natural phenomena."
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Fighting Cancer with Math

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  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @12:40AM (#12691225) Journal
    But she blinded me with science!

    I'm Dancin Santa, bitch!
  • If this is true (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Telvin_3d (855514)
    If this works the way they say it does, then all I can say is that someone has just won a nobel prize.
    • Seriously. First thing that crossed my mind reading the summary was "wow, that took some serious out-of-the-box thinking".

      If this works, these guys deserve a world of recognition.
    • Um, Nobel Prize?
      There is no Nobel Prize in Mathematics (and it has nothing to Alfred Nobel's wife). [snopes.com]
      But yes, the mathematicians might get a Nobel for "Physiology/Medicine". Cool! The only other Mathematician I know who has won a Nobel Prize is of course John Nash, for economics.
      • Of course, mathematicians could get the Field's medal. That's one thing I learned from Good Will Hunting. Anyway, it seems that mathematicians get very little recognition for what they do. You always hear about nobel prize winners and pulitzer prize winners, but you hardly ever hear of Field's medal winners. I think that was something else they pointed out in Good Will Hunting. Very few people get famous for doing math. Even Newton is known more for discovering gravity, than discovering calculus. The
    • Re:If this is true (Score:4, Informative)

      by greenskyx (609089) * on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @01:02AM (#12691326)
      I thought I'd send a quick response to this. You can't get a nobel prize in Mathematics [mathforum.org]. I'm not sure if they could get one with this research for medicine though. I'm guessing it's that possible. Peace.
    • From the article:

      "By using a mathematical formula formula designed to strengthen the immune system, a team of scientists in Spain have succeeded in curing a patient who was in the last stage of terminal liver cancer."

      A cure for cancer? By using math? Astounding! Unfortunately, the paper is rather short, and only speaks about the linear growth aspect.
      • Re:Hell Yes (Score:3, Funny)

        by nacturation (646836)
        A cure for cancer? By using math? Astounding!

        This shouldn't be so astounding. After all, for many it's already cured insomnia.
    • by spitshine (259841) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @01:31AM (#12691428) Homepage
      The paper was published in 2003 and was cited twice in total - by themselves (I just checked Web of Science [isiknowledge.com]).
      If there would be a real advancement behind this, many people would use it. Sad but true, but they sound like quacks.
    • Growth front analysis based on fractal theory is a pretty common method. It can also be used to describe advancing flames, the growth of thin films, growths of plants and bacteria colonies etc.

      Its application in medical sciences may be rare - mostly because med. people are not really fond of mathematics.

      Given the background of these methods I would be suprised if this was the first time it is applied to the growth of cancer. The article seems to be well written and pretty comprehensive though, thus it is
  • Not really (Score:4, Informative)

    by fgl (792403) <daniel@notforsale.co.nz> on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @12:44AM (#12691243) Homepage Journal
    Im very Impressed Im sure. But its not really fighting cancer with math, just creating a good model on how to repond with the treatments we have.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @12:46AM (#12691246) Homepage Journal
    I've been recovering from a broken finger the past month or so. I've studied the stemcell research describing the process. And what would otherwise be vague itching, swelling and aching instead resolves to actual awareness of incremental growth in the new tissue. I've modified the splint in feedback with the changing critical anatomical areas, and already have much more mobility than the literature describes. Before it's even completely healed. As we do more research on these self-organizing cellular growth systems, we'll be able to work with these tissues, facilitating their growth for maximum recovery with minimum risk and downtime. Theraputic stemcells are just the mannered cousins of tumorcells - we might very well live to see a day when they're all domesticated for our health, and even recreation.
    • Who needs stem cell research it for "recreational" use. I've got a mail box full of 'enhancing' growth pills. And I'm sure they didn't use stem cell research to get those 'doctor' approved pills to add inches etc...

      If you want, I could forward them to you. :D

      cheers.
  • A joke... (Score:5, Funny)

    by MagicDude (727944) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @12:49AM (#12691265)
    Remind me of the joke on how mathematicians fight fire...

    A physicist, an engineer, and a mathematician are staying in a hotel in separate rooms. A fire breaks out in the physicist's bathroom. The physicist wakes up, sees the fire, does some calculations on his calculator, fills a cup of water, and throws it at the base of the fire putting it out while getting the rest of the bathroom hardly wet at all, and then goes back to sleep.

    A fire breaks out in the engineer's bathroom later that night. The engineer wakes up, sees the fire, runs into the hallway and brings the firehose into the bathroom and lets the stream go full blast. After a minute or so, the fire is out, and the bathroom is soaking wet with water dripping everywhere, but the fire is out and the engineer goes back to bed.

    A fire breaks out in the mathematician's room. The mathematician wakes up and sees the fire, does some lengthy calculations on paper, lights a match and drops it in a glass of water, says "It can be done", and goes back to bed.
    • Re:A joke... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jlseagull (106472)
      The way I heard the final bit was:

      "The mathematician wakes up in the middle of the night, lights a match, sets the place on fire, then goes back to bed, having reduced the problem to a previously solved one."
    • I fight cancer with math, too. I have for all my life. For instance, I fight ovarian cancer by having a 0% chance of developing it based on my gender, race, and age.
    • by IntelliTubbie (29947) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @02:23AM (#12691611)
      A fire breaks out in the mathematician's room. The mathematician wakes up and sees the fire, does some lengthy calculations on paper, lights a match and drops it in a glass of water, says "It can be done", and goes back to bed.

      A mathematician doing an experiment? Never! (And yes, I am one.) The mathematician sees the fire, notices a glass of water on his nightstand, proclaims, "A solution exists!" and goes back to bed.

      Cheers,
      IT
      • by vashdot (887177)

        At the risk of trolling beyond my bounds...
        It irks me to hear a good joke all the way to the end, only to find someone botched the punchline. Thank you fellow mathematician for enlightening us to the real deal.

        Just so this isn't a pure fluff-post, here's a link to the abstract of the original paper from clinical studies in mice, published in Physical Review Letters, June 7, 2004. Mind you this has only been tested in one human case study and they make no claims to generalize this to other forms
    • by Anonymous Coward
      In a similar vein, although this time picking on Statistics branch of Mathematics :

      The Physicist, the Chemist, and the Statistician

      Three professors (a physicist, a chemist, and a statistician) are called in
      to see their dean. Just as they arrive the dean is called out of his office,
      leaving the three professors there. The professors see with alarm that there
      is a fire in the wastebasket.

      The physicist says, "I know what to do! We must cool down the materials
      until their temperature is lower than the ignitio
  • by Seumas (6865) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @12:50AM (#12691271)
    I'm sorry, but my faith does not allow for medical/mathematical intervention. You must allow my child to die to fulfill god's glorious plan.

    You can stuff all your "evolution" and "math" voodoo. Fucking heathens!
    • ...but in President Commander Coo-Coo Bananas' US, where emphasis in schools is shifting from science and math to ridiculous concepts like 'intelligent design' and a steady diet of Bible stories, I think the vast majority of fantastic, groundbreaking medical research is going to come from countries where the education system isn't being run by a bunch of Christofascists trying to ensure that fundamentalist principles are forced upon every child in the land.

      Congratulations, America. The edge that made yo
      • Sure, if there's one thing that's incompatible with a career in science or medicine, it's learning Hebrew. I hear it also eliminates any possibility of the student becoming a lawyer or an accountant.
    • I'm sorry, but my faith does not allow for medical/mathematical intervention. You must allow my child to die to fulfill god's glorious plan.

      Shouldn't be a problem if you're Catholic. Remember: it is perfectly acceptable for Catholics to prevent pregnancy with mathematics, though sinful to use physics or chemistry.
  • What's next, a 'Grow Your Own Cancer' kit like those crystal ones? I hope it works better than the crystal ones do...
  • by aendeuryu (844048) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @12:53AM (#12691280)
    1. Confuse the tumours with complex calculus.
    2. When they're not expecting it, nab 'em!
  • "The patient responded well to the treatment immediately and has since made a total recovery and has returned to work."

    I find it really sad to consider that a person almost died and that the "positive outcome" is that he returned to work.
    • Well, maybe that was best for that particular person, but I get your point.

      Hey, you reading this. You are going to die. Subtract the number 68 from your age. That's a good guess at how much time you have left, but no guarantees. What are you doing with your life between now and then? And if you have to die in the next minute, are you going to be satisfied with the way you've used your time? If not, start changing now.

      Bruce

      • Hey, you reading this. You are going to die. Subtract the number 68 from your age. That's a good guess at how much time you have left, but no guarantees.

        Damn, I'm already decades in the hole. On the bright side, someone who's 100 years old still has 32 years left!
      • Actually, even if we ignore that you got it backwards, it's still not as you claim "a good guess" at the time you've got left.

        First, 68 is a very low life-expectancy for a developed nation (most people reading slashdot are from developed nations) even USA (which have bad life-expectancies) are a decade better than this.

        Second, that's life-expectancy *at birth*. Saying that a new-born has an expected life of 78 years is not at all the same as claiming that a 75 year old living person will on the average

    • "I find it really sad to consider that a person almost died and that the "positive outcome" is that he returned to work."

      Would you have preferred it if the outcome was "The patient responded well to the treatment immediately, but was unable to regain enough of his normal life to return to work"?
  • 3.141592654 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kinky Bass Junk (880011) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @01:02AM (#12691322)
    Now fighting cancer is easy as pi!
  • by kesuki (321456) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @01:05AM (#12691337) Journal
    http://www.hypography.com/article.cfm?id=34220 [hypography.com]

    http://physics.about.com/b/a/088887.htm [about.com]

    the blog entry that they linked to was kinda vauge on details ;) turns out the only math the used was in calculating how tumours grow, and how they prevent immune responses, so they figured out an immune system response they can trigger that will cause the cells that cause tumours to grow to become a 'target' of the patients immune system. no math equasion used to 'cure' it at all, just a little deductive reasoning and science...
    • Wow, thanks for those links, especially the hypograpy.com one. Zeroes right in on the details and gives a clear explanation of how and why the therapy works. That article should be the link posted; the one submitted tells almost nothing.

      It's interesting that the key is to stimulate immune cells to exert mechanical pressure on the tumor cells to inhibit their growth.
  • From the article:

    "create a treatment based on neutrofiles that strengthened the patient's immune system. The patient responded well to the treatment immediately and has since made a total recovery and has returned to work."

    So it wasn't just math. Biology also helped.
  • No cure here... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hung_himself (774451) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @01:49AM (#12691499)
    From what I read in the article, they were just able to simulate something resembling real tumours using a linear growth model. But then the article itself says in the discussion that no one has ever observed non-linear exponential growth in real tumors anyways so people (with the possible exception of other modelers) have obviously taken this into account. Not clear to me whether any of the results from their model are novel nor are their assertions about the nutrient dependence of tumor growth convincing without some real experiments.

    As a computational biologist, I'm not knocking the usefulness of these types of mathematical approaches - and what they seem to have is a nice and maybe even a correct tumorigensis model, but let's keep it real - this is far from a cure for cancer...
    • But then the article itself says in the discussion that no one has ever observed non-linear exponential growth in real tumors anyways

      Just a clarification; the article says they've never observed non-linear growth in solid tumors.

      I think it has to do with attack surfaces; once a tumor has metastized it has a much larger attack surface in relation to it's volume.
  • by cascino (454769) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @01:55AM (#12691517) Homepage
    This stuff's been done for years - just google "gompertz cancer" and you'll see what I mean. I was part of a team that developed a mathematical model for the growth (and cure - using a modified virus, but that's a whole different story) of multiple myeloma in immunodeficient mice. Perhaps they've applied a new model (I only glanced at the paper), but this certainly isn't the first time and it certainly won't be the last time research along these lines has taken place. A lot of very smart people have spent decades working on such research.

    Of course it's great to see an advancement in science, particularly applied math, but those calling for the Nobel should take a deep breath and relax - cancer isn't going away anytime soon.
    • If I've read your post correctly, you've misunderstood the article. They're arguing -- convincingly -- that the Gompertz model should be thrown out in favor of an MBE (Molecular Beam Epitaxy) model. The MBE model differs from the Gompertz model in that it has most of the growth occurring at the tumor surface, rather than uniformly throughout. It's this phenomenon that they're targeting their therapies at.
    • Someone finds something out like this about every five to ten years. For instance, it was known back in the early 1900s that cancer was basically the same and grows in the same manner no matter where it appears in the body. Go back and study the research of Joseph Beard (do a google).

      The problem is that more people make a living from treating cancer than actually die from it. There is an insane amount of money changing hands over cancer, so no matter what new, improved, and more successful treatments pop u
    • Do stem cells cause cancer? Asks the cover of the latest (Dec. 27) issue of Forbes Magazine,

      Dirks and a handful of other mavericks argue that this indiscriminate approach is wrongheaded. They believe a single type of cell may be cancer's main growth engine:mutant stem cells that, though barely present, spawn other cells that then spark growth. "This has profound implications," says researcher Thomas Look of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "The major cells you see under a microscope may not be the on
    • take a deep breath and relax - cancer isn't going away anytime soon.

      Whew, thanks for clearing that up. I was starting to get worried!
  • This has to be the coolest thing I've read on Slashdot in months. I will eat spanish food for a week in their honor and will buy twenty Euros and hang it on my cubicle wall.
  • Still early days. (Score:5, Informative)

    by scottZed (787286) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @02:09AM (#12691575)

    There is a follow-up article criticizing the original article: abstract [nih.gov]

    And a response by the original authors: abstract [nih.gov]

    In any event, it's a little premature to celebrate. Their follow-up work in mice (abstract [nih.gov]) used implanted tumours. It is already known that tumours have the capacity to evade immune response, and we should not be surprised that implanting a foreign tumour mass into a host and stimulating the immune system will provoke a favourable response. The situation is more complicated when trying to raise the immune system to attack a tumour comprised of one's own cells. It seems to me that, at this point, they are trying to prove their particular growth model, not developing a de facto cure.

    That their devised strategy worked on a single human subject is cause for optimism, and nothing more. That work has not been published (that I could find), so there is no way to properly assess the result. At this point, they are more than likely drumming up press to ensure continued funding for their research... not that there's anything wrong with that ;).

  • Some Background... (Score:3, Informative)

    by KrackHouse (628313) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @02:23AM (#12691616) Homepage
    This is from an old article describing the results on mice...
    Link [about.com]
    "In 16 mice with a tumor mass in the muscle, the researchers induced neutrophil production by administering an immune system booster known as GM-CSF over two months. In a short time, they observed that GM-CSF altered the growth dynamics of the cells. The tumors of two mice regressed completely and 80-90% tumor-cell death was seen in the rest. If the growth dynamics of tumors are universal, there is every reason to be hopeful the same result could be obtained in humans."

    And some detail on how it works...
    "Tumor cells, they have found, grow through the diffusion or migration of cancer cells at the tumor's outer edges. Only the cells close to the edge of the tumor proliferate--those inside the tumor do not, contrary to previous assumptions. According to the researchers' observations, cells formed at the edge of the tumor diffuse at the border of the tumor mass until they settle in curved depressions where the competition for space is lowest and where they are best protected from the immune system. In their new paper, Bru and co-workers show that the mechanical pressure exerted by immune-system cells known as "neutrophils" around mouse tumors can prevent the diffusion of these cells and thus prevent tumor growth."

    I'm too much of a damn pessimist to believe it's true after reading something similar to this just about every week followed by "could lead to treatments"... Here's hoping I'm wrong.
    • Well, if you are a mouse, we can cure your cancer easily..

      There are problems of scaling; tumors in humans are typically much bigger than those in mice, and a mouse will die of old age before a tumor returns anyway.

      But we can always hope.. Cancer survival rates are improving as new treatments come along.

  • by cahiha (873942) on Wednesday June 01, 2005 @02:40AM (#12691686)
    Tumor growth rates are a hotly debated topic. This paper contains some interesting ideas. But the headline incorrectly suggests that "fighting cancer with math" is something new. Biologists have been using mathematics, including differential equations and fractals for as long as they have been around (in fact, a lot of math comes from biological problems).

    On quick reading, this paper seems to argue primarily that it is not nutrients, but cell diffusion, that limits cancer growth rates. That hypothesis is supported by observing similarities between the growth behavior and shapes created by processes in that class and real tumors. Interesting, but only weak evidence. They'll need to refine their hypothesis and test it more directly experimentally.

    • The abstract to the paper makes clear they are modelling in vitro tumor growth. This is the logical place to start, but the history of cancer research is full of examples where lessons learned in glass don't translate well to life.

      The specific result that tumor growth may be limited by cell diffusion rather than nutrients is particularly susceptible to this problem, as there are a few things missing in the lab, like blood vessels, that could make a significant difference in the organism.

      --Tom
  • Well, we'll see... (Score:2, Informative)

    by missing_boy (627271)
    The excitement over this paper, or "treatment" is perhaps a bit premature. Scaling treatment is a common and quite popular approach in many growth phenomena, and has been investigated to death in the context of crystal growth (MBE, molecular beam epitaxy), but ironically, the equation that bears the name "MBE equation" does not actually describe MBE growth correctly (in my view). Therefore, saying that equation (2) in the original paper describes the physical process of "surface diffusion" in the case of
  • By the time you get through their formulae you'll develop a tumor.
  • ... that using mathematical models is not a new concept in medicine. Mathematical models is part of the foundation for just about any other branch of science.
  • What a triple-stinkin load of Wolframmy fermeted bollocks!

    A triple load:

    • First, we twiddled with x's and y's until our formula, developed by us, and nobody else, kinda matches the real-world data. Our formula.
    • Next, we conclude by looking at our cooked-up formula, the real-world follows our rule! Brilliant! We congratulate ourselves. Several times. With good Spanish wine.
    • Finally, we expand: other things must work the same way! Boy, we must be really brilliant! Better start ironing my Noble-prize
  • Do some research on the relationship between cancer and stem cells. Very interesting stuff. Here is some information from Forbes Magazine:

    Do stem cells cause cancer? Asks the cover of the latest (Dec. 27) issue of Forbes Magazine,

    Dirks and a handful of other mavericks argue that this indiscriminate approach is wrongheaded. They believe a single type of cell may be cancer's main growth engine:mutant stem cells that, though barely present, spawn other cells that then spark growth. "This has profound impli
  • cancer is a rare event, and by the time it is detected, hundreds, if not thousands of cell divisions have occured. hence, I don't think anyone has the slightest idea what the initial steps on the path from normal to tumorigenic were, since you can't possibly capture this (except in people heterozygous for tumor suppresor genes, like wilms patients)
    • Rare events occur every day.

      For your information, there is a lot more to cancer than people think.

      Example?

      Example? Okay, cancer is like onions.

      It stinks?

      Yes! No!

      Cancer makes you cry?

      No!

      You leave it out in the sun, it gets all brown and starts sprouting little white hairs.

      No! Layers. Onions have layers. Cancer has layers. You get it? They both have layers.

      (Apologies to Shrek)
  • Farmers wanted to increase production of milk.

    The job was given to a biologist, who after 5 years and 3 million dollars was able to produce cows who gave 5% more milk.

    It wasn't enought, so they gave the job to some chemists who after 10 years and 10 million dollars created a cow who produced 15% more milk.

    It still wasn't good enough, so they went to a matematician.

    The guy calls them next day and says that he can easily force cows to give 50% more milk! So the farmers are running there like crazy and as
  • I thought at first that they just, you know, threatened to make the cancerous growth do math. I know I'd want to curl up and die if someone were forcing me to do calculus again...
  • I'm reminded of an old medical story using math successfully. I guess you heard about the constipated mathematician. He worked it out with a pencil.
  • I think I'll wait a bit before I belive this...

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