Princeton’s Physical Sciences-Oncology Center


The design of the micro-environment allows bacteria (red and green) to squeeze through channels as they search for nutrients (LB) that flow into the chambers through tiny slits. When the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (CIPRO) is added, bacteria evolve resistance to the drug much more rapidly than they would in an open environment. (Image courtesy of Robert Austin)

Game theory could help researchers gain an understanding of the dynamics of cancerous-tumor evolution under stress, according to research published in the journal AIP Advances in March 2012 by researchers at Princeton and the University of California-San Francisco. To explore interactions of cells in a rapidly growing tumor, the researchers modeled non-cancerous cells as cooperators, which obey the rules of communal survival, and tumor cells as cheaters, which do not obey these rules. The researchers found that the simulation was most accurate when it included how the cells behave in localized regions of the tumor rather than the entire tumor.

The researchers are affiliated with Princeton’s Physical Sciences- Oncology Center (PPS-OC), an interdisciplinary research center aimed at exploring the physical laws that govern the emergence and behavior of cancer. The center is led by Robert Austin, a professor of physics at Princeton, and includes collaborators at the University of California-San Francisco, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California-Santa Cruz and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the PPS-OC operates within a collaborative network of 12 other physical sciences– oncology centers.

In related work, Austin and colleagues reported in the journal Science in September 2011 the creation of a silicon-based microhabitat for studying the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. They constructed a plate containing tiny hexagon- shaped rooms connected by microscopic channels. Compared to conventional research flasks and dishes, the microhabitat is meant to more closely resemble the environment in living organisms. Austin and colleagues found that in this special habitat, bacteria evolved to be resistant to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin much more quickly than did bacteria growing in flasks. The research could make it easier for scientists to study how bacteria evade drugs and how to prevent resistance from developing.