A Shortcut to Preventing Cancer

Natural Killer Cell Destorying Cancer Cell Illustration

To better understand and perhaps prevent cancers brought on by multiple genetic mutations, Rice University researchers are constructing a theoretical framework.

A new theory suggests that mutations have few straightforward ways to establish themselves in cells and cause tumors.

For many researchers, the road to cancer prevention is long and difficult, but a recent study by Rice University scientists suggests that there may be shortcuts.

A theoretical framework is being developed by Rice scientist Anatoly Kolomeisky, postdoctoral researcher Hamid Teimouri, and research assistant Cade Spaulding that will explain how cancers brought on by several genetic mutations might be more readily recognized and perhaps prevented.

Cade Spaulding, Anatoly Kolomeisky, and Hamid Teimouri

A new paper by a Rice University lab shows how to increase the odds of identifying cancer-causing mutations before tumors take hold. Authors are, from the left, Cade Spaulding, Anatoly Kolomeisky, and Hamid Teimouri. Credit: Rice University

It does this by detecting and ignoring transition pathways that don’t significantly contribute to the fixation of mutations in a cell that later becomes a tumor.

The study, which was published on May 13th, 2022 in the Biophysical Journal, details their analysis of the effective energy landscapes of cellular transformation pathways connected to a number of cancers. The ability to narrow the number of paths to those most likely to initiate cancer could help in the development of strategies to interrupt the process before it begins.

“In some sense, cancer is a bad-luck story,” said Kolomeisky, a professor of chemistry and of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “We think we can decrease the probability of this bad luck by looking for low-probability collections of mutations that typically lead to cancer. Depending on the type of cancer, this can range between two mutations and 10.”

Calculating the effective energies that govern interactions in biomolecular systems may help anticipate how they will behave. The theory is widely used to anticipate how a protein will fold based on the sequence of its constituent atoms and how they interact.

The Rice team is applying the same idea to cancer initiation pathways that work in cells but sometimes include mutations that are undetected by the body’s protections. When two or more of these mutations are fixed in a cell, they are carried on when cells divide and tumors develop.

Rice University Algorithm

An algorithm developed at Rice University identifies and ignores transition pathways that don’t contribute much to the fixation of mutations in a cell that goes on to establish a tumor. Credit: Hamid Teimouri/Rice University

By their calculations, the odds favor the most dominant pathways, those that carry mutations forward while expending the least amount of energy, Kolomeisky said.

“Instead of looking at all possible chemical reactions, we identify the few that we might need to look at,” he explained. “It seems to us that most tissues involved in the initiation of cancer are trying to be as homogenous as possible. The rule is a pathway that decreases heterogeneity is always going to be the fastest on the road to tumor formation.”

The huge number of possible pathways seems to make narrowing them down an intractable problem. “But it turned out that using our chemical intuition and building an effective free-energy landscape helped by allowing us to calculate where in the process a mutation is likely to become fixated in a cell,” Kolomeisky said.

The team simplified calculations by focusing initially on pathways involving only two mutations that, when fixed, initiate a tumor. Kolomeisky said mechanisms involving more mutations will complicate calculations, but the procedure remains the same.

Much of the credit goes to Spaulding, who under Teimouri’s direction created the algorithms that greatly simplify the calculations. The visiting research assistant was 12 when he first met Kolomeisky to ask for guidance. Having graduated from a Houston high school two years early, he joined the Rice lab last year at 16 and will attend Trinity University in San Antonio this fall.

“Cade has outstanding ability in computer programming and in implementing sophisticated algorithms despite his very young age,” Kolomeisky said. “He came up with the most efficient Monte Carlo simulations to test our theory, where the size of the system can involve up to a billion cells.”

Spaulding said the project brought together chemistry, physics and biology in a way that meshes with his interests, along with his computer programming skills. “It was good way to combine all of the branches of science and also programming, which is what I find most interesting,” he said.

The study follows a 2019 paper in which the Rice lab modeled stochastic (random) processes to learn why some cancerous cells overcome the body’s defenses and trigger spread of the disease.

But understanding how those cells become cancerous in the first place could help head them off at the pass, Kolomeisky said. “This has implications for personalized medicine,” he said. “If a tissue test can find mutations, our framework might tell you if you are likely to develop a tumor and whether you need to have more frequent checkups. I think this powerful framework can be a tool for prevention.”

The Welch Foundation (C-1559), the National Science Foundation (1953453, 1941106) and the NSF-supported Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (2019745) supported the research.

Reference: “Optimal pathways control fixation of multiple mutations during cancer initiation” by Hamid Teimouri, Cade Spaulding and Anatoly B. Kolomeisky, 13 May 2022, Biophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2022.05.011

15 Comments on "A Shortcut to Preventing Cancer"

  1. I would like to know more

  2. Maria cecilia calderon | June 19, 2022 at 6:04 am | Reply

    Excelent information

  3. … like cells are confused in order to make new monster instead of what they should do… a few reasons for that might arose…

  4. Yes, please continue. For many of us with cancer only have for much time

  5. 3.2 million people per year would like to know more!
    Get it? The number of patients newly diagnosed with cancer 🙁

  6. Hello yes I want to know more . I am a cancer survivor ! I was diagnosed in 2000 an I had 2 cancers at the same time an I was stage 3 an yes I’m very fortunate an blessed .My oncologist asked me was there anything that I did besides try to have a positive attitude towards it which was very hard . But I feel the attitude towards holistic an herbal treatments should keep being incorporated as my mother helped me an I was told that everything we did herbal n nutrician holistic helped me . I’m in a medical journal or I was . So I believe that eastern n western should always work together in treatment for everything from cancer too everything else .

  7. I have cancer. Now where the cure!!!! I have had my body ripped apart to the bone with radiation and chemo therapy treatments. The doctors only can say sorry for pain and what your going through. How about doctors that gives this stuff to the patients take the same drugs that there giving their giving the patients. Than lets see if they like how it feels.
    I like my life back .To where I able to every thing I used to do! This feeling like crap and getting beat up to point you cannot move or control your body . I’m more than happy to let you take ride on this roller coaster ride you can not get off. It will twist you,shake,make you throw up to the point of no return, beat your body up, give insomnia, give you hypothermia , and that’s happens everyday when you don’t want it to.
    So again I ask where the cure….
    So I challenge everyone of you Science Institutes to put heads together and your knowledge to all Cancer Centers. And start buy using DNA profile of the patient to give the way to help them get rid of the cancer!!!!!

  8. Dr Beth on you tube

  9. Barbara Geach | June 19, 2022 at 10:08 pm | Reply

    Now to get this to screening and testing to help people prevent cancer instead of treating it.

  10. Lisa Stephens | June 19, 2022 at 11:59 pm | Reply

    Dr Eric Berg and Dr Thomas Seyfried discuss Ketogenic Metabolic Therapy indepth on YouTube…MUST WATCH AND LEARN…Cancer is not genetic, but GLUCOSE and GLUTAMINE…

  11. Not medic advice but look into NAD+, NMN, Glutathione, Black Seed Oil and Shilajit.

  12. Be careful. Big pharmacy is reading too. Money before cures.

  13. Faith is everything | June 20, 2022 at 7:08 pm | Reply

    I know this is a heated conversation for some but for the person this message belongs to will receive it. Jesus heal cancer. Give your life to Jesus. Read your Bible declare the promises of healing over your life and believe.

  14. So when the cells are fixed it leads to a tumor. Interesting.

  15. I’ll just use coloidal silver like my friend did. Kills it while just in the same vacinity.. doesn’t even have to make contact. Not to mention adding the 30 other alternative treatments. Easy peazy.. and I’ve seen it all done before.

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