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Mathematical Modeling of Branching Morphogenesis and Vascular Tumor Growth


Feedback regulation of cell lineages is known to play an important role in tissue size control, but the effect in tissue morphogenesis has yet to be explored. We first use a non-spatial model to show that a combination of positive and negative feedback on stem and/or progenitor cell self-renewal leads to bistable or bi-modal growth behaviors and ultrasensitivity to external growth cues. Next, a spatiotemporal model is used to demonstrate spatial patterns such as local budding and branching arise in this setting, and are not consequences of Turing-type instabilities. We next extend the model to a three-dimensional hybrid discrete-continuum model of tumor growth to study the effects of angiogenesis, tumor progression and cancer therapies. We account for the crosstalk between the vasculature and cancer stem cells (CSCs), and CSC transdifferentiation into vascular endothelial cells (gECs), as observed experimentally. The vasculature stabilizes tumor invasiveness but considerably enhances growth. A gEC network structure forms spontaneously within the hypoxic core, consistent with experimental findings. The model is then used to study cancer therapeutics. We demonstrate that traditional anti-angiogenic therapies decelerate tumor growth, but make the tumor highly invasive. Chemotherapies help to reduce tumor sizes, but cannot control the invasion. Anti-CSC therapies that promote differentiation or disturb the stem cell niche effectively reduce tumor invasiveness. However, gECs inherit mutations present in CSCs and are resistant to traditional therapies. We show that anti-gEC treatments block the support on CSCs by gECs, and reduce both tumor size and invasiveness. Our study suggests that therapies targeting the vasculature, CSCs and gECs, when combined, are highly synergistic and are capable of controlling both tumor size and shape.

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