Thursday, March 18, 2010

Virtual Tumors

By Mike Martin for Harvard Magazine 

If a single word could describe the diverse disorders collectively known as cancer, it might be unpredictable.  Trying to judge the course and prognosis of this meandering, unforgiving, and frequently fatal disease is almost impossible.

But Thomas Deisboeck, as director of a pioneering project to “engineer” different kinds of tumors, is trying to make cancer more predictable—and hence, more treatable. His Center for the Development of a Virtual Tumor (CViT) doesn’t grow cells in a lab or study cancer in mice. Instead, it serves as a “virtual laboratory,” using computers rather than test tubes, and three-dimensional images instead of lab animals, to foster collaboration among researchers from around the world.

“At CViT, we extract data from experiments and the scientific literature, and build models with it,” explains Deisboeck, an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School. “Basing our computational models on a cell’s interaction with its environment, we can simulate everything from a single cell to an organ, and make predictions from what we observe.” 

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