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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 02:44 GMT
Bright outlook for cancer care
Weather forecast
Could Bill Giles' techniques be used by cancer specialists?
Cancer doctors could one day use a similar technique to weather forecasting to help predict the best way to treat patients, an expert predicts.

Professor Mark Chaplain, from Dundee University, said that mathematical models could be used to calculate the likely spread of cancer and how best it may respond to treatment.

Professor Chaplain, addressing the Cancer Research Campaign's National Cancer Symposium in Manchester, said the technique being developed worked on a similar principle to weather forecasting.

He said: "Weather forecasting uses a mathematical model to predict future weather patterns based on current information.

We believe this system will be an important tool for doctors in the future

Professor Mark Chaplain, Dundee University
"The information includes various atmospheric data and measurements such as pressure, water content and wind speed.

"In the same way, I believe, doctors could use mathematical models to predict where cancer cells are likely to move in the body, how fast they will do so and how well they could respond to treatment.

"We are not claiming that a computer model would cure anybody - that is down to doctors.

"But we could provide doctors with extra information to help them make decisions about treatment."

Patient data

Professor Chaplain said the system would work by inputting existing data about an individual patient, details of their blood supply and the biological characteristics of their tumour into a mathematical programme which would be processed by a computer.

Professor Gordon McVie
Professor Gordon McVie: research is "exciting"
The computer programme would then display 3-D graphics simulating how that person's cancer was likely to spread.

It would also give a numerical print-out of factors which could help determine how doctors treat the cancer, such as how much oxygen is being supplied to the tumour.

So far Professor Chaplain and his colleagues at Dundee University and Heriot-Watt University have been developing mathematical models based on published data about patients' tumours. Early results have been promising.

The team now plan to develop their technique more fully by testing it out with the help of scientists in the lab.

They believe that a fully workable system could be available within five to ten years.

Big future

Professor Chaplain said: "We believe this system will be an important tool for doctors in the future and, once it's been refined, we would like every hospital to have access to it.

"What we need to do is convince clinicians of its real potential to help patients."

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, described the research as "exciting".

He said: "I believe this may become part of mainstream cancer treatment in the future.

"Mathematical models are, of course, only an approximation to reality, but so are our weather forecasts and look how useful they are to us all."

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