H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute PS-OC
The Moffitt PSOC embraces the physical science research paradigm that has combined empirical studies with mathematically-based theoretical models that integrate and organize diverse data. We view cancer as an open, complex, dynamic, adaptive system. “Complex” because it contains a large number of components linked through a variety of mostly non-linear interactions. “Adaptive” because the tumor cells evolve and coevolve phenotypic strategies in response to their micro-environmental circumstance, each other, and eventually to therapy. “Dynamic” because all of the elements of the tumor, the cancer cell population sizes, adaptive strategies, and their interactions with each other and their environment change through space and time. “Open” because it continuously interacts with normal tissue in large part through its vascular network. Similar to Riparian ecosystems, blood vessels provide nutrients and growth factors to and remove metabolites from surrounding cancer population as well as providing a highway for the transport of tumor cells to distant organs. We investigate the cancer as a complex system through an integrated, multidisciplinary approach that includes physicists, applied mathematicians, cancer biologists, computer scientists, oncologists, and evolutionary biologists. Like all living systems, we assume that cancer populations are ultimately governed by Darwinian dynamics which we view as first principles. Complex systems are notoriously difficult to predict as illustrated by the famous “butterfly effect.” However, we have found that predictive models can be developed through the integration of large data sets (similar to weather forecasting), evolutionary first principles, and sophisticated computational methods that ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of the underlying dynamics. Furthermore, we have demonstrated both theoretically and empirically, that the tendency of complex systems to magnify small perturbations can be exploited to guide cancer towards less aggressive outcomes.