Test­ing can­cer’s lim­its with game the­ory

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS -

Game the­ory is pop­u­lar among poker play­ers, econ­o­mists and politi­cians.

That’s un­der­stand­able. The the­ory ex­am­ines how we make strate­gic de­ci­sions when other peo­ple are in­volved.

Now, on­col­ogy re­searchers are em­ploy­ing game the­ory to look for new ways to com­bat tu­mors. Dr. Ken­neth Pienta, Ardeshir Kian­ercy and Robert Vel­tri of Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity drew on game the­ory to study the evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween oxy­gen-rich and oxy­gen-needy tu­mor cells. That re­la­tion­ship can be sym­bi­otic—or not. The re­searchers used game the­ory to look for moments to ex­ploit their chang­ing re­la­tion­ship to fight can­cer.

Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies could po­ten­tially dis­rupt that sym­bi­otic cel­lu­lar devel­op­ment and stunt tu­mor growth, said Kian­ercy, a post­doc­toral fel­low at the univer­sity.

In­deed, the re­searchers iden­ti­fied a few po­ten­tial junc­tures when that re­la­tion­ship may leave the tu­mor more vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack, they re­cently re­ported in the jour­nal In­ter­face Fo­cus.

The work un­der­scores the im­por­tance of study­ing the en­vi­ron­ment in which tu­mor cells evolve, Kian­ercy said. Re­sults that fo­cus ex­clu­sively on the tu­mor could be dis­ap­point­ing, he said, just as the farmer may find his prob­lems don’t end af­ter he shoots the fox in the hen­house. With­out the fox, rab­bits may re­turn to dec­i­mate the farmer’s gar­den. The en­vi­ron­ment mat­ters, he said.

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