I am continuing with my Nature of Code final, which is now actually the beginning of a larger data representation project aimed at showing both the process of cancer growth and the prevalence of cancer in the US. There is still an overall misunderstanding of cancer by the general public and subsequently increased fear. The overall average probability of getting cancer at some point in their life is 41% for Americans. An American Cancer society survey shows that 65% of citizens are worried or very worried about getting cancer.
The above image is a pseudocode drawing of the replication of normal cells and the mutation and invasion of cancer cells. The uncontrolled growth of the cancer cells and potential metastasis through the bloodstream will lead to a visual take over by cancer cells in the sketch.
The topic of genetics in Nature of Code has started me thinking quite literally. I would like to try to model the process of cell division and propagation of cancer in tissue. The following video shows a basic animation of how cancer grows and spreads. The causes of cancer are not addressed, just the process of growth.
The next video clip goes into a little more detail on common (non-cancerous) cell division.
Some of agents of cancer stemming from smoking, sunlight, etc involve free radicals that can cause the initial mutation in cells that become cancerous. For my processing project I hope to basically visualize cell division and then show the addition of free radicals to the system. The radicals will “hit” random cells causing mutation and subsequently increased mitosis and the spread of cancer, overwhelming the surrounding “normal” cells.
This is a brief summary of the events leading to cancer:
Quite simply, cancer evolves when cells divide uncontrollably and unregulated. The process is something like;
1. A single cell in a tissue suffers a mutation in a gene involved in the cell cycle, e.g., an oncogene or tumor suppressor gene.
2. This results in giving that cell a slight growth advantage over other dividing cells in the tissue.
3. As that cell develops into a clone, some if its descendants suffer another mutation in another cell-cycle gene.
4. This further deregulates the cell cycle of that cell and its descendants.
5. As the rate of mitosis in that clone increases, the chances of further DNA damage increases.
6. Eventually, so many mutations have occurred that the growth of that clone becomes completely unregulated.
7. The result being full-blown cancer.
In 1985, Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley were pooling their talents and chemistry research when they collectively “tripped on a ball”. It was a ball of carbon actually, made of 60 atoms in the shape of a perfect geodesic sphere. This fullerene, the Buckyball, was named after architect, artist and scientist Buckminster Fuller whose signature work was with geodesic domes like the one he built at the 1967 Montreal Expo. Buckyballs are extremely significant in chemistry as the carbon-based sphere occurs frequently in nature. More recently, buckyballs, and even more so carbon nanotubes (buckytubes) have been of particular interest due to their utility in technology and materials research and development.
The Nature of Code has been mostly about forces and physics thus far…enter now the quantum physics. The symmetry of the carbon atoms’ orientation in the buckyball sphere make it an extremely strong and cohesive molecule. It is sort of as if the atoms have a magnetism toward one another.