Section: Research Program

Methodological axis 2: reaction and motion equations for living systems


Luis Almeida, Benoît Perthame, Diane Peurichard, Nastassia Pouradier Duteil, Dirk Drasdo

Project-team positioning

The Mamba team had initiated and is a leader on the works developed in this research axis. It is a part of a consortium of several mathematicians in France through the ANR Blanc project Kibord, which involves in particular members from others Inria team (DRACULA, COMMEDIA). Finally, we mention that from Sept. 2017 on, Mamba benefited from the ERC Advanced Grant ADORA (Asymptotic approach to spatial and dynamical organizations) of Benoît Perthame.

Scientific achievements

We divide this research axis, which relies on the study of partial differential equations for space and time organisation of biological populations, according to various applications using the same type of mathematical formalisms and methodologies: asymptotic analysis, weak solutions, numerical algorithms.

Aggregation equation

In the mathematical study of collective behavior, an important class of models is given by the aggregation equation. In the presence of a non-smooth interaction potential, solutions of such systems may blow up in finite time. To overcome this difficulty, we have defined weak measure-valued solutions in the sense of duality and its equivalence with gradient flows and entropy solutions in one dimension  [117]. The extension to higher dimensions has been studied in  [87]. An interesting consequence of this approach is the possibility to use the traditional finite volume approach to design numerical schemes able to capture the good behavior of such weak measure-valued solutions  [109], [116].

Identification of the mechanisms of single cell motion

In this research axis, we aim to study the mechanisms of single cell adhesion-based and adhesion free motion. This work is done in the frame of the recently created associated team MaMoCeMa (see Section 9) with the WPI, Vienna. In a first direction [150] with N. Sfakianakis (Heidelberg University), we extended the live-cell motility Filament Based Lamellipodium Model to incorporate the forces exerted on the lamellipodium of the cells due to cell-cell collision and cadherin induced cell-cell adhesion. We took into account the nature of these forces via physical and biological constraints and modelling assumptions. We investigated the effect these new components had in the migration and morphology of the cells through particular experiments. We exhibit moreover the similarities between our simulated cells and HeLa cancer cells.

In a second work done in collaboration with the group of biologist at IST (led by Michael Sixt Austria), we developed and analyzed a two-dimensional mathematical model for cells migrating without adhesion capabilities [118]. Cells are represented by their cortex, which is modelled as an elastic curve, subject to an internal pressure force. Net polymerization or depolymerization in the cortex is modelled via local addition or removal of material, driving a cortical flow. The model takes the form of a fully nonlinear degenerate parabolic system. An existence analysis is carried out by adapting ideas from the theory of gradient flows. Numerical simulations show that these simple rules can account for the behavior observed in experiments, suggesting a possible mechanical mechanism for adhesion-independent motility.

Free boundary problems for tumor growth

Fluid dynamic equations are now commonly used to describe tumor growth with two main classes of models: those which describe tumor growth through the dynamics of the density of tumoral cells subjected to a mechanical stress; those describing the tumor through the dynamics of its geometrical domain thanks to a Hele-Shaw-type free boundary model. The first link between these two classes of models has been rigorously obtained thanks to an incompressible limit in  [137] for a simple model. This result has motivated the use of another strategy based on viscosity solutions, leading to similar results, in  [121].

Since more realistic systems are used in the analysis of medical images, we have extended these studies to include active motion of cells in  [136], viscosity in  [141] and proved regularity results in  [129]. The limiting Hele-Shaw free boundary model has been used to describe mathematically the invasion capacity of a tumour by looking for travelling wave solutions, in  [140], see also Methodological axis 3. It is a fundamental but difficult issue to explain rigorously the emergence of instabilities in the direction transversal to the wave propagation. For a simplified model, a complete explanation is obtained in  [122].

Two-way coupling of diffusion and growth

We are currently developing a mathematical framework for diffusion equations on time-evolving manifolds, where the evolution of the manifold is a function of the distribution of the diffusing quantity. The need for such a framework takes it roots in developmental biology. Indeed, the growth of an organism is triggered by signaling molecules called morphogens that diffuse in the organism during its development. Meanwhile, the diffusion of the morphogens is itself affected by the changes in shape and size of the organism. In other words, there is a complete coupling between the diffusion of the morphogens and the evolution of the shapes. In addition to the elaboration of this theoretical framework, we also collaborate with a team of developmental biologists from Rutgers University (Camden, New Jersey) to develop a model for the diffusion of Gurken during the oogenesis of Drosophila.

Migration of cells in extracellular matrix

A single cell based model has been developed that reproduces a large set of experimental observations of cells migrating in extracellular matrix based on physical mechanisms with mimimal internal cell dynamics. This includes individually migrating cells in micro-channels of different size, and their collective dynamics in case of many cells, as well as the impact of cell division and growth. The model explicitly mimics the extracellular matrix as the cells as deformable objects with explicit filopodia.


  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University, joint publications with Min Tang on bacterial models for chemotaxis and free boundary problems for tumor growth.

  • Imperial College London, joint works with José Antonio Carrillo on aggregation equation.

  • University of Maryland at College Park, UCLA, Univ. of Chicago, Univ. Autónoma de Madrid, Univ. of St. Andrews (Scotland), joint works on mathematics of tumor growth models.

  • Joint work with Francesco Rossi (Università di Padova, Italy) and Benedetto Piccoli (Rutgers University, Camden, New Jersey, USA) on Developmental PDEs.

  • Cooperation with Shugo Yasuda (University of Hyogo, Kobe, Japan) and Vincent Calvez (EPI Dracula) on the subject of bacterial motion.

  • Cooperation with Nathalie Ferrand (INSERM), Michèle Sabbah (INSERM) and Guillaume Vidal (Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal, Bordeaux) on cell aggregation by chemotaxis.

  • Nicolas Vauchelet, Université Paris 13