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Researchers Quantify Underlying Landscape of Cancer

Findings from two newly published papers may help provide a design for new anticancer tactics.

by Stony Brook University
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Stony Brook researchers Jin Wang and Chunhe Li investigate cancer and normal cells viewed as different basins of attraction of valleys in a quantitative landscape picture of cancer.Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook, NY, September 24, 2014 – The cellular and genetic hallmarks of cancer development are multiple, and a team of researchers in the Departments of Chemistry and Physics at Stony Brook University have developed a pictorial yet quantitative landscape theory to explore cancer cellular development that could form the foundation to new anticancer tactics.

Their research and methods used are published in two new scientific papers. One is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) early edition and titled “Landscape and flux reveal a new global view and physical quantification of mammalian cell cycle,” and the other is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and titled “Quantifying the underlying landscape and paths of cancer.”

In the PNAS paper, the researchers considered one of the hallmarks of cancer – the cell cycle. The cell cycle speed of cancer is much faster than normal cells. By quantitatively uncovering the landscape of the cell cycle, the researchers are able to visualize the cell cycle progress and illustrate its journey along a “ring valley” with hills and valleys. By showing this unconventional view of the cell cycle quite different from standard texts, they discovered two major forces for the cell cycle: the cycle flux as the driving force originated from the nutrition supply for accelerating cell cycle and the barriers from the “hills and valleys” as the dragging force for decelerating cell cycle.

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“By identifying two cell cycle driving forces, and the key genes and regulations influencing these forces, we believe this could be the basis for an anti-cancer targeting strategy that targets these key genes and regulations, as well as the nutrition supply to reduce the cell cycle speed from fast cancer back to normal cell speed,” explained Prof. Jin Wang, PhD, a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Physics, and a member of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology, and a member of the Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery.

In the Journal of the Royal Society paper, the research team developed a global potential landscape and path framework to quantify cancer and associated processes, all of which involves the interaction of genes. In this conceptual and quantitative picture, the cancer and normal cells can be viewed as different basins of a landscape. The landscape topography characterizes important biological states, such as normal, cancer, and cancer cell proliferation.

“In this case we are uncovering multiple hallmarks of cancer, not just one, and with that we can identify the key genes and regulations determining the depths of cancer and normal basins as well as the transition barriers in between,” said Professor Wang. “The landscape shape can be used as a potential way to design anti-cancer strategies by targeting multiple genes and gene regulation patterns.”

Prof. Wang, and his Stony Brook post-doctoral researcher and co-author Dr. Chunhe Li of the Department of Chemistry, along with scientific collaborators in China will continue the research in order to build and refine quantitative models of the cellular landscape of cancer.

The combined research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Science Foundation of China.