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Hematopoiesis and Leukemia Simulations
A human brain consists of about 100 billion nerve cells. In comparison, the bone marrow produces around 350 billion red blood cells per day. This corresponds approximately to the number of stars in the Milky Way. Surprisingly, this huge number is made up of only a few hundred stem cells that undergo many stages of cell division and differentiation - a process called hematopoiesis. Because these cells divide so much before they become fully developed blood cells and since so many are produced each day, they are susceptible to mutations occurring somewhere in the process. Some of these mutations (or combinations thereof) can transform a healthy cell into a cancer cell, which in turn divides and multiplies uncontrollably. This leads to blood cancer, the most known form of which is leukemia.
We have developed a mathematical model of the human hematopoiesis system that can be simulated on the computer. Based on this model, we studied the onset, development and treatment of leukemia. In our simulations, for example, we found that the order in which different mutations occur has a major impact on whether a patient eventually has leukemia or not. Different drugs can fight the effects of single mutations. Consequently, it would also be possible to optimize the order in which these drugs are administered by similar computer simulations.
The simulation can be watched in real-time through an online application or it can be interacted with. In this application, the user can introduce different mutations and observe their negative effects on different blood values (such as the number of red and white blood cells). In addition, a virtual patient may undergo stem cell transplant for the treatment of leukemia, and it may be tracked how his blood levels recover. Such simulations would have great educational value for medical students trying to understand hematopoiesis and leukemia.