A multiphase model for three-dimensional tumor growth

G. Sciumè, S. Shelton, W. G. Gray, C. T. Miller, F. Hussain, M. Ferrari, P. Decuzzi, B. A. Schrefler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Several mathematical formulations have analyzed the time-dependent behavior of a tumor mass. However, most of these propose simplifications that compromise the physical soundness of the model. Here, multiphase porous media mechanics is extended to model tumor evolution, using governing equations obtained via the thermodynamically constrained averaging theory. A tumor mass is treated as a multiphase medium composed of an extracellular matrix (ECM); tumor cells (TCs), which may become necrotic depending on the nutrient concentration and tumor phase pressure; healthy cells (HCs); and an interstitial fluid for the transport of nutrients. The equations are solved by a finite element method to predict the growth rate of the tumor mass as a function of the initial tumor-to-healthy cell density ratio, nutrient concentration, mechanical strain, cell adhesion and geometry. Results are shown for three cases of practical biological interest such as multicellular tumor spheroids (MTSs) and tumor cords. First, the model is validated by experimental data for time-dependent growth of an MTS in a culture medium. The tumor growth pattern follows a biphasic behavior: initially, the rapidly growing TCs tend to saturate the volume available without any significant increase in overall tumor size; then, a classical Gompertzian pattern is observed for the MTS radius variation with time. A core with necrotic cells appears for tumor sizes larger than 150 μm, surrounded by a shell of viable TCs whose thickness stays almost constant with time. A formula to estimate the size of the necrotic core is proposed. In the second case, the MTS is confined within a healthy tissue. The growth rate is reduced, as compared to the first case - mostly due to the relative adhesion of the TCs and HCs to the ECM, and the less favorable transport of nutrients. In particular, for HCs adhering less avidly to the ECM, the healthy tissue is progressively displaced as the malignant mass grows, whereas TC infiltration is predicted for the opposite condition. Interestingly, the infiltration potential of the tumor mass is mostly driven by the relative cell adhesion to the ECM. In the third case, a tumor cord model is analyzed where the malignant cells grow around microvessels in a three-dimensional geometry. It is shown that TCs tend to migrate among adjacent vessels seeking new oxygen and nutrients. This model can predict and optimize the efficacy of anticancer therapeutic strategies. It can be further developed to answer questions on tumor biophysics, related to the effects of ECM stiffness and cell adhesion on TC proliferation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number015005
JournalNew Journal of Physics
StatePublished - Jan 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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