I have been collaborating with Simon Walker-Samuel, senior research scientist at the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI) UCL.
Our collaboration comes out of a shared conception of cancer as a complex system comprehensible and visualisable through mathematical algorythms and sharing certain analogical relations to other mathematically describable processes in nature . Simon’s research is currently visualising angiogenesis and modelling the venous networks within tumours and the effect of experimental therapies on them. He is showing me the 3D of his scans of mouse tumours that are central to his current research into how drugs can be delivered most effectively to tumours to destroy them.
I am bringing my thinking of cancer as being analogous in some ways to wider growth patterns in the natural world We are discussing some of the wider implications of this way of thinking about cancer both as an artistic process and also possible implications for scientific understandings of cancer.
Simon generated these vein network trees based on the network topology of the venous network within a healthy human kidney. Each image is a vascular tree with a tumour in; the severity of the growth is defined by a mutation level given by the ratio of the number of levels in the tree to the level at which the mutation occurs. The higher the number, the more severe the tumour. Also, some trees have more than one tumour, in which case the overall mutation level is the sum of each individual mutation level.
The worst case scenario is first where a tumorous venous network has overtaken the entire tree. Subsequent trees have tumours at lower and lower levels on the branching hierarchy and are more and more devastated.
The trees are formed by a dynamic growth algorithm in which, once a complete ‘normal’ network is constructed, a mutation is induced at a random point and a ‘tumour’ network forms. This is accompanied by a localised atrophy of the normal network. This is then followed by the reverse process - the tumour is atrophied and a normal branch forms in its place, mirroring growth and regression of the tumour and normalisation of the blood vessel network. Ultimately a criterion could be defined to determine whether a network either ‘survives’ the tumour and completely renormalises or is completely overcome by the tumour.