How can computer games technology help discover new drugs to treat cancer?

How can computer games technology help discover new drugs to treat cancer? This surprising step forward for science will be revealed at a free public lecture at the University of Abertay Dundee this Wednesday at 6pm (17 October).
More than one in three people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Professor Jim Bown and colleagues at Abertay, St Andrews, Edinburgh and Dundee Universities combine biomedical science, complex computing and interactive animations to create better models for predicting cancer and drug behaviour.
His work creates interactive models that show cell signalling pathways and biomolecular species levels, allowing the impact of changing of doses of different combinations of drugs to be predicted.
The interactive models function like a living map, letting mathematicians and biologists work more closely together. Any drug interventions show system-scale, knock-on effects – just as if a line was closed on the London Tube, re-routing passengers on to other lines.
Professor Bown said: “We’re trying to provide an intuitive, interactive games-based platform to promote effective communication among experts in maths, biology and physics – all working on different areas of cancer – but different disciplines have difficulties interacting with each other’s research. Often even communicating between the languages of the different disciplines is very hard.
“By visualising what cancer cell pathways look like, and predicting how they interact with different drugs in real time, we hope to improve this area of crucial scientific research.”
The next step for Professor Bown and his team – who include academic specialists in computer games programming, parallel computing, applied mathematics and biomedical science – is to create an interactive tool to simulate 1 million biologically plausible cells (a virtual tissue) and its evolution over a six month period.
The aim of the Abertay University experts is to create six months of data in just one week’s intensive computer processing.
He added: “Simulating cell growth over many months is incredibly difficult on many different levels, but the potential impact on cancer research and clinical treatment could be incredible. We believe we have the right mix of skills, models and experimental systems to do something unique in cancer systems biology.
“What we’re talking about is harnessing the power of parallel hardware in computer clusters, all to inform how we can create new targeted treatments to overcome cancer resistance to existing drugs and increase survival rates.”
The free lecture is at 6pm on Wednesday 17 October in the Main Lecture Theatre in Abertay’s Kydd Building.
It is open to the public and everyone is welcome. To reserve seats, please contact

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