BioDynaMo: Newcastle helps develop program for simulating brain tumour growth

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A multinational effort, made in collaboration with University College London, The University of Cyprus and CERN saw the monumental creation of a freely available program for assessing the development of brain tumours.

Where previously, such simulations were limited to the confines of research laboratories, needing advanced computers, PHD student Jean de Montigny points out “The advantage for scientists and medics is that BioDynaMo can be used on standard laptops or desktop computers and provides a software platform which can be used to easily create, run and visualise 3D agent-based biological simulations.”

In this respect, Newcastle and researchers abroad have not only succeeded in creating an accessible and potentially indispensable tool in the assessment of cancerous tumours, but have made a huge stride in mechano-biology.

Mechano-biology is an interdisciplinary and still emerging field

Mechano-biology is an interdisciplinary and still emerging field, sitting at the interface of biology, engineering and physics, and focuses on how physical forces and changes in the cellular mechanical properties contribute to development, physiology and disease. This recent program is an example of the vaulting speed mechano-biology and related fields have taken in the previous decades.

One of the first tumour simulations, created in 2006 by a team led by Dr Vito Quaranta of Vanderbilt University, sought to determine the invasive potential of a cancerous growth, likening the mathematical principles surrounding the estimations to a weather forecast. Based on the assumption that the macroenvironments surrounding cells are the principal force determining their fatality, Quaranta describes the process of estimation as “if the experimental data don’t fit the predictions from the model, either the experiments or the model need to be corrected, you go back and forth, and every time you get a new result, you correct the model, and you’re a little bit closer to reality.”

This guiding principle has powered BioDynaMo. Where the former program took 8 hours to predict 4 months of tumour growth (on the most advanced computers), the new program moves at a rate far quicker. BioDynaMo ambitiously targets glioma, accounting for 80% of malignant brain tumours. After creating a 3D model of the tumour, it “encompasses the role of cell migration and adhesion, the influence of the extracellular matrix, and the effects of oxygen and nutrient availability”. 

Whilst the primary development of this program was undertaken by Newcastle University, CERN lent their immense knowledge large scale computing, with Cyprus and UCL assisting with expertise in multiscale modelling.

Last modified: 3rd March 2020

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