Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UC San Francisco Previously Published Works bannerUCSF

A computational approach to resolve cell level contributions to early glandular epithelial cancer progression.



Three-dimensional (3D) embedded cell cultures provide an appropriate physiological environment to reconstruct features of early glandular epithelial cancer. Although these are orders of magnitude simpler than tissues, they too are complex systems that have proven challenging to understand. We used agent-based, discrete event simulation modeling methods to build working hypotheses of mechanisms of epithelial 3D culture phenotype and early cancer progression. Starting with an earlier software analogue, we validated an improved in silico epithelial analogue (ISEA) for cardinal features of a normally developed MDCK cyst. A set of axiomatic operating principles defined simulated cell actions. We explored selective disruption of individual simulated cell actions. New framework features enabled recording detailed measures of ISEA cell activities and morphology.


Enabled by a small set of cell operating principles, ISEA cells multiplied and self-organized into cyst-like structures that mimicked those of MDCK cells in a 3D embedded cell culture. Selective disruption of "anoikis" or directional cell division caused the ISEA to develop phenotypic features resembling those of in vitro tumor reconstruction models and cancerous tissues in vivo. Disrupting either process, or both, altered cell activity patterns that resulted in morphologically similar outcomes. Increased disruption led to a prolonged presence of intraluminal cells.


ISEA mechanisms, behaviors, and morphological properties may have biological counterparts. To the extent that in silico-to-in vitro mappings are valid, the results suggest plausible, additional mechanisms of in vitro cancer reconstruction or reversion, and raise potentially significant implications for early cancer diagnosis based on histology. Further ISEA development and use are expected to provide a viable platform to complement in vitro methods for unraveling the mechanistic basis of epithelial morphogenesis and cancer progression.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View