A Physicist Looks at Cancer Metastasis

A Physicist Looks at Cancer Metastasis

Soft Condensed Matter & Physics of Living Systems


September 26, 2017 -
3:00pm to 4:00pm


Student Center Theater - Level 1




Rice University , Houston Texas


Most cancer deaths arise when then primary tumor metastasizes and cancer takes root in distant organs. From the point of view of cellular behavior, metastatic spread requires many capabilities (motility, chemoresistance, avoidance of cell death due to lack of adhesion, and ability to grow in a foreign location) which seem beyond what is normally possible for cells in typical organs.

To address this issue, we focus on the phenomenon of phenotypic plasticity, the idea that the nonlinear dynamics of cellular genetic networks can lead to transitions to states that are capable of these feats. These new phenotypes can be studied with the help of mathematical models both of the underlying networks and of the resultant biophysical properties (such as motility). By revealing the factors most responsible for the formation of these aggressive cellular types, we hopefully can suggest new targeting therapies for what remains the most recalcitrant aspect of cancer.


Dr. Levine is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He serves as the co-director for the National Science Foundation sponsored Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP), located on the campus of Rice University, as a partnership among Rice, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston. In this position, Dr. Levine supervises a large interdisciplinary team of researchers who apply methods from physical science to vexing problems in biology and biomedicine. A particular emphasis in recent years has been on cancer, where pure biology-based approaches have not proven capable of finding effective treatments or cures for metastatic disease. Dr. Levine is a member of the editorial board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, editor in chief of the journal Physical Biology and an associate editor of Physical Review Letters. He is first author on over 250 publications in the area of theoretical physics as applied to a wide variety of systems, especially living systems.