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Argonne scientists leverage the power of supercomputers to gain greater understanding of cancer

Argonne scientists Jonathan Ozik (pictured) and Nicholson Collier teamed up with researchers in Vermont and Indiana to search for clues to improve cancer immunotherapy by harnessing the power of supercomputers at Argonne and the University of Chicago (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

All cancer patients are different and respond differently to the same therapy. But what if a medical team could create a virtual twin” of a patient and their cancer, simulating how cancer cells behave in order to test treatment options? A multi-institution research team including the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has brought the power of high-performance computing to improve cancer immunotherapy.

A promising treatment, immunotherapy realigns a patient’s immune system to reduce or kill cancer cells. However, the therapy is successful in only 10% to 20% of patients because cancer cell behavior is still poorly understood. Using supercomputers, Argonne computational scientists are collaborating with partners at Indiana University, Bloomington and the University of Vermont Medical Center, Burlington to study how immunotherapy works and why it works for only some, but not all, cancer patients.

The team used a technique called agent-based modeling to predict how cancer cells and immune cells interact. The team simulated scenarios under which immune cells successfully killed tumor cells and where cancer cells evaded the immune system. Their approach promises a greater understanding of how the immune system interacts with many types of cancer.