New math developments lead to more improved brain cancer treatment

Published: Sep. 19, 2017 at 4:12 PM EDT
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Mayo Clinic in Phoenix has opened a research lab where the goal is to use math to find the best treatment for brain cancer tumors.

Doctor Bernard Bendok is leading a research team trying to get ahead of that pattern. They’re using MRI scans and other pathology to create mathematical equations to tell them what a brain tumor is likely to do.

“Tumors, in a way, while they may seem to be unpredictable, actually follow a pattern,” said Doctor Bendok. “We’re moving from what I would consider conventional healthcare to individualized health care, where we try to predict and understand how a tumor is behaving, not on average for an average patient, but in a specific patient.”

Mathematician Kristin Swanson is the newest warrior on the cancer-fighting team. She looks at data and connects the dots to predict how fast a tumor will grow and where the cells will spread.

“We have all this diverse data across different biological processes within cancers," she said. "How do we stitch this together? And that’s where the math comes in. It’s kind of the glue.”

Doctor Swanson’s equations will help guide surgeons and radiologists. And some day, they may help oncologists pick the best drugs and clinical trials for patients.

The Mayo research team is currently running a study to validate predictive models of tumor spread.

They hope to be in clinical trials using the math model to direct surgery within the year.



REPORT: MB #4311

BACKGROUND: A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue that disrupts proper brain function. There are malignant or cancerous ones, as well as benign or non-cancerous brain tumors. Primary brain tumors begin in the cells of the brain and may spread to other parts of the brain or the spine but rarely to other organs. Metastatic or secondary brain tumors begin in another part of the body and then spread to the brain. These are more common than the primary brain tumors, and named by the location where they began. There are over 120 types of brain and central nervous system tumors, and they develop from different cell types and may have different treatment options. Most often the first step to diagnosis is a brain scan, often an MRI. A biopsy may also be necessary to help identify the brain tumor type.



TREATMENT: Treatment may vary based on a patient’s age, medical history, and overall health. It can also depend on the location, type and size of the tumor, how it is likely going to spread or recur, and a person’s tolerance for specific medications, therapies or procedures. Treatment may include antiseizure or antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), steroids, or surgery. Higher grade tumors that can grow more quickly and may be more difficult to remove require additional treatments beyond surgery, such as radiation, chemotherapy, or a clinical trial when one is available. X-rays or other forms of radiation can destroy or delay tumor growth, oral or intravenous chemotherapy may also be necessary.



NEW TECHNOLOGY: Moving towards individualized health care and treatment, it can be extremely beneficial in treating a patient with a brain tumor if its future path can be determined or tracked. Now, doctors are using medical mathematics to predict the behavior of brain tumors, and understand future growth or movements each may take. By understand how they’re behaving and understand where they’re spreading and how, health care providers can figure out how to tackle them in a more specific manner. Using math, doctors and researchers can try to individualize treatment for patients; to extend length and improve a patient’s quality of life and maximize tumor removal.

(Source: Dr. Bernard Bendock)

MORE FROM KRISTIN SWANSON: “Dr. Bendok and I are working collaboratively. My lab has been working to bring mathematics to the care of patients with cancer for over 20 years. In fact, in that time, my lab has served truly as a pioneer of the field of mathematical neuro-oncology applied to patient data. Dr. Bendok is a world renowned tumor and vascular neurosurgeon pioneering amazing innovations across neurosurgery. His work touches many areas of neurosurgery but has recently added a focus in mathematical oncology through our relatively new partnership formalized as our co-directorship of the new Precision NeuroTherapeutics Innovation program at Mayo Clinic Arizona. A major focus of our partnership focuses on how to combine his team’s neurosurgical technology innovations with my labs patient-specific mathematical oncology innovations to improve patient care. As such, Dr. Bendok’s team and my team are working together to bring the brain cancer mathematical models (that my lab has developed and validated over the many years) to greater use in the clinic, giving physicians more information to help them make difficult treatment choices for their patients with glioblastoma.”