New Software and Platforms
New Software and Platforms

Section: Application Domains

Pathological hematopoiesis

The knowledge of hematopoiesis and related diseases has evolved to become a great deal in the past years, and Mackey's previous models (ref. [30]) do not allow us to correctly answer current questions that are clearly oriented toward the investigation of cell signalling pathways. These models nevertheless bring relevant ideas about the essential features of such modelling. It is also noteworthy that even though models of hematopoiesis have existed for quite a long time, their application to questions of explanation and prediction of hematopoiesis dynamics that are encountered in the clinic is still not sufficiently frequent, even though much progress has been achieved in the cooperation between hematologists and mathematicians [41]. This is in the optic of testable experimental predictions that the multi-scale model for pathological hematopoiesis will be developed. For instance, we will concentrate on myeloid leukemias (CML and AML) and their treatment.

Leukemia Modelling

(i) Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

The strong tyrosine kinase activity of the BCR-ABL protein is the basis for the main cell effects that are observed in CML: significant proliferation, anti-apoptotic effect, disruption of stroma adhesion properties, genomic instability. This explains the presence in CML blood of a very important number of cells belonging to the myeloid lineage, at all stages of maturation.

We will consider models based on ordinary differential equations for the action of the main intra- and extra-cellular proteins involved in CML (as BCR-ABL protein), and of transport equations (with or without delay, physiologically structured or not to represent healthy and leukemic cell populations, take into account many interactions between proteins (especially BCR-ABL), cells (anti-apoptotic effect, etc.), and their environment (disruption of stroma adhesion properties, for example). Transport pertains thus to cells from one compartment (or a group of compartments) to another compartment, with a determined speed of aging or maturation. These compartments may be detailed or not: the less mature are stem cells, then progenitor cells, etc.

(ii) Acute Myeloid Leukemia

The natural history of CML leads to its transformation ("blast crisis") in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), following supplementary genetic alterations that produce a maturation arrest (myeloid in 3/4 of cases, lymphoid in 1/4 of cases, confirming the insult to pluripotent stem cells), leading to an accumulation of immature cells in the bone marrow and in the general circulation, resulting in deep medullary impairment and fast fatal outcome, in spite of chemotherapy. This phenomenon is the same as the one observed in de novo AML, i.e., AML without a previous chronic phase.

The different modelling methods of AML will be similar to the ones described for CML, with some exceptions: the appearance of BCR-ABL mutations, which are not relevant in the case of AML, the appearance of a gene (spi-1) involved in the differentiation arrest, and constitutive activation of EPO receptor or Kit activating mutations promote proliferation and survival. This explains the accumulation of immature cells in the bone marrow and in the blood stream.


As far as treatment of pathological hematopoiesis is concerned, two main strategies currently exist that aim at slowing down or eliminating damaged cell proliferation. The first of these strategies consists in launching the apoptotic process during the cell division cycle. This process is activated, for example when the cell is unable to repair damages, e.g., after exposure to cytostatic drugs. A typical example is apoptosis induced by chemotherapy-induced DNA damage: The damage is recognised by the cell, which then activates the sentinel protein p53 ("guardian of the genome") that arrests the cell cycle to allow, if possible, damage repair. If the latter is unrecoverable, then p53 activates the endogenous apoptotic processes.

The second strategy aims at pushing damaged cells toward the differentiation that has been stopped in the course of their genetic mutation. Since a few years back, a new approach has been developed around the strategy of differentiation therapy. This therapy relies on molecules (growth factors and specific cytokines) that are able to re-initialise the cell differentiation programs that have been modified during malignant transformation. The cancer that is most concerned by the development of this differentiation therapy is AML whose malignant cells present highly undifferentiated features and the ones that present a translocation responsible for the differentiation (PML/RAR of the promyelocytic form, AML1/ETO and CBFbeta/MyH11, involving Core Binding Factors alpha and beta).

Mathematical models based on ordinary differential equations will be developed to describe the action of drugs (in the two cases mentioned above). They will take into account interactions between drugs and their environment. Our goal will be the optimization of possible synergies between drugs acting on distinct cellular targets, and the control of resistances to these treatments as well as their toxicities.

Curative and palliative strategies must take into account the dynamics of healthy and leukemic hematopoietic cells at multiple scales. In time, from optimal scheduling of combination therapy (hours) to avoiding the development of resistances and relapse (months to years). In space, from the stem cell niche to circulating blood. In organization, from gene and signalling networks (JAK/STAT, BCR-ABL) to cell populations and cytokine regulation (EPO, CSFs). Several recent qualitative models have provided insight in the complex dynamics of the disease and the response to treatments. Many of these models focus on the control or regulation processes that promote homeostasis or oscillatory behavior in cell number. However, as A. Morley points out, "once the control-systems features of hematopoiesis are accepted, the ability to construct a model that shows oscillatory behavior, even if the model incorporates the latest advances in hematopoietic cell biology, really adds little new knowledge. Rather, the challenge to modellers would seem to be to provide detailed predictions for the input-output characteristics of the different parts of the various control systems so that these predictions can be tested by experimental hematologists and a truly quantitative description of hematopoiesis can emerge".

We propose for instance, to use models in the form of structured transport partial differential equations (with or without delay, physiologically structured or not) to represent the competition between target, resistant and healthy cell populations. The resulting models to describe the dynamic of these cell populations under the action of drugs are multi-scale systems of the form (Hyperbolic PDE)-ODE or DDE-ODE. For instance, we will develop mathematical models of chronotherapy and pharmacotherapy for CML and AML.