"Modeling the role of immune cell conversion in the tumor-immune microenvironment"
Tumors develop in a complex physical, biochemical, and cellular milieu, referred to as the tumor microenvironment. Of special interest is the set of immune cells that reciprocally interact with the tumor, the tumor-immune microenvironment (TIME). The diversity of cell types and cell-cell interactions in the TIME has led researchers to apply concepts from ecology to describe the dynamics. However, while tumor cells are known to induce immune cells to switch from anti-tumor to pro-tumor phenotypes, this type of ecological interaction has been largely overlooked. To address this gap in cancer modeling, we develop a minimal, ecological model of the TIME with immune cell conversion, to highlight this important interaction and explore its consequences. A key finding is that immune conversion increases the range of parameters supporting a co-existence phase in which the immune system and the tumor reach a stalemate. Our results suggest that further investigation of the consequences of immune cell conversion, using detailed, data-driven models, will be critical for greater understanding of TIME dynamics.
Additional authors: Youyuan Deng, Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, Rice University; Herbert Levine, Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, Northeastern University