Paul Macklin, an associate professor at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has been awarded a grant from the National Cancer Institute to use supercomputers to study a series of experimentally grounded simulation models that will explore the complex cellular interactions that fuel the growth and spread of tumors in the body.
Working as part of a collaboration with USC researchers Stacey Finley and Shannon Mumenthaler, Macklin will use PhysiCell, the 3D software he developed that simulates multicellular activity, to apply a new paradigm to cancer systems biology.
“We’ll be able to rapidly identify therapeutic targets to disrupt the cancer system rather than target weaknesses in individual cancer cells,” Macklin said. “I hope we can learn how to apply this systems thinking to avoid past mistakes where treatments consider single cells but ignore the system, which can lead to unexpected side effects, cancer resistance, and ultimately, treatment failure.”
Researchers at USC are focusing on building datasets that can refine the molecular model of the cancer cells, and Macklin will work with colleagues in the Intelligent Systems Engineering department at SICE to improve the performance of the models and use IU’s supercomputing resources to run hundreds or thousands of simulations at a time.
The award from the NCI also allows Macklin’s Math Cancer Lab to join the NCI Cancer Systems Biology Consortium, which will allow his group to learn from and work with the greatest minds across the United States in mathematical modeling, cancer biology, evolution, and clinical oncology.
“I’m tremendously grateful and honored that the National Cancer Institute is funding this work,” Macklin said. “This allows us to pursue a very exciting project with top-notch collaborators while making a difference in serious health problems. It gives us an opportunity to change the way we think about cancer as a systems problem. It’s personally rewarding to apply my technological interests to important health problems like cancer.”
Macklin’s PhysiCell system allows researchers to test various treatments in a virtual world much more quickly and at a much lower cost.
“Paul’s research shows the tremendous impact computing can have when it comes to improving health care,” said Kay Connelly, the assistant dean for research at SICE. “This critical area holds fantastic potential for development, and our faculty at SICE are constantly innovating to make a positive impact. This grant will help change lives and take our understanding of cancer systems to the next level.”