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This story is about the good guys (the super-heros) and the bad guys (the cancer genes) and we will see how the super-heros will save the day (and hopefully cure cancer).
Cancer appears when the cells in our body stop caring about the other cells and worry only about themselves, growing and consuming all the resources. Neuroblastoma is a cancer in children with interesting features. It’s the cancer with the highest number of patients getting cured spontaneously without any treatment and scientists still do not fully understand how. Therefore investigating this cancer might help us to find better treatments not only for Neuroblastoma, but also for other cancer types.
The story develops at 2 levels: the level of the patient (kid) and what happens at the molecular level (molecule dance). At the kid level the cells in his body are dividing NORMALLY going through all CELL CYCLE phases (circle dance) namely; nutrient collection, duplication of genetic material and actual division. When CELL CYCLE goes crazy, then CANCER appears, meaning, cells going faster trough cell cycle and never stopping division.
Now we jump to the molecular level. When there is NO CANCER, the 2 important molecules Rb and E2F1 are together and cells do not divide. if Growth Factor is present, Rb is inactivated giving freedom to E2F1 to start cell division. When growth factor disappears, Rb recovers and goes back together with E2F1 stopping cell division. We can think of the Rb as a brake that stops cell division, whenever the brake is released cells divide. When CANCER appears things start to go crazy. MYCN is an important molecule that promotes Neuroblastoma and there are usually lots of MYCN molecules in the Neuroblastoma cells (Amplification). We know that MYCN keeps Rb and E2F1 always apart promoting division without stopping, just grow, grow and grow… The question is now, how to best fight MYCN?
To answer this question I’m using a Systems Biology approach to figure out in detail MYCN's actions. Systems biology is the combination of mathematical modeling, computer simulations and experimental data to understand complex problems in biology. Here, the Robot helps to process the complex information of MYCN actions and generates strategies of HOW TO FIGHT MYCNs. These strategies are “transferred” to The “TREATMENT,” the SuperHero! (No worries, it’s not Ben Affleck). The TREATMENT with the help of the Robot exterminates MYCN, saving the kid and making him happy again.
For a global picture of Neuroblastoma and Systems Biology, don't miss the talk version at the Science Slam in Berlin:
Division of Theoretical Systems Biology. (B086)
German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)