Mathematical Modeling Offers a New Approach to Cancer Treatment, Moffitt Cancer Center Researchers Say

January 29, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. – Mathematicians and biologists at Moffitt Cancer Center have teamed up to advance cancer treatment in a unique way. They are part of the cancer center’s Integrated Mathematical Oncology Program (IMO). The program merges the fields of oncology and mathematics with the goal of using an integrated approach to better understand, predict and treat cancer. Moffitt is the only cancer hospital in the country to have such a program.

In a review article, published by Frontiers in Oncology, a team led by the Moffitt IMO member Katarzyna A. Rejniak, Ph.D. described the relatively new academic area that studies cancer through mathematical modeling. They explained how the novel approach allows scientists to model how drugs will interact with and penetrate into tumor tissues.

Cancer is a complicated disease.  A single tumor can have many different genetic mutations and problems in communication pathways that affect tumor cell growth, death and response to treatments.  Distorted vasculature, immune cells and stromal components also influence interstitial transport of drug molecules.  Furthermore, tumors can develop resistance to many targeted therapeutic agents. With these hurdles to overcome, it is estimated that it costs approximately $1 billion for a drug to pass preclinical testing and advance through phase III trials and receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These facts suggest that more advanced approaches are needed to determine how tumors develop and the most effective ways to treat them.

The IMO program’s approach is to develop mathematical models and computer simulations to link data that is obtained in a laboratory and the clinic. The models can provide insight into which drugs will or will not work in a clinical setting, and how to design more effective drug administration schedules, especially for drug combinations.  The investigators collaborate with experts in the fields of biology, mathematics, computer science, imaging, and clinical science.

“Limited penetration may be one of the main causes that drugs that showed good therapeutic effect in laboratory experiments fail in clinical trials,” explained Rejniak. “Mathematical modeling can help us understand which tumor, or drug-related factors, hinder the drug penetration process, and how to overcome these obstacles.”  

Rejniak’s work is supported by the National Institute of Health (U54-CA-143970a), Miles for Moffitt Milestones Award and American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant Award.

About Moffitt Cancer Center
Located in Tampa, Moffitt is one of only 41 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, its contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt is the No. 1 cancer hospital in Florida and has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer since 1999. With more than 4,200 employees, Moffitt has an economic impact on the state of nearly $2 billion. For more information, visit, and follow the Moffitt momentum on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.