Joint seminar in math biology and probability: Mathematical Modelling in Immunotherapy of Melanoma
Mathematical models can support biomedical research through identification of key mechanisms, validation of experiments, and simulation of new therapeutic approaches.
We investigate the evolution of melanomas under adoptive cell transfer therapy with cytotoxic T-cells. It was shown in experiments that phenotypic plasticity, more precisely an inflammation-induced, reversible dedifferentiation, is an important escape mechanism for the tumor. Recently, the effects of possible mutation to a permanently resistant genotype were studied by introducing knockout melanoma cells into the wildtype tumor.
We use a stochastic individual-based Markov process to describe the evolution of the tumor under various therapeutic approaches. It is an extension of the model introduced in the paper of Baar et al in 2016 and further includes the effects of T-cell exhaustion and some limited spatial component which results in additional non-linearities. The model is implemented as a hybrid algorithm that combines Gillespie-type stochastic calculations and a deterministic approximation to speed up simulations while keeping the effects of random events.
Numerical simulations confirm the resistance to therapy via phenotypic switching as well as genotypic mutation. T-cell exhaustion is identified as an important mechanism that is crucial in fitting the model to the experimental data. We gain further insights into how originally unfit knockout cells can accumulate under therapy, shield the wild type cells from the T-cells, and thus cause an earlier relapse. Going beyond the experiment, the possibility of naturally occurring rare mutations, in contrast to artificially introduced knockout cells, is explored in simulations and produces the same effects. Thus, the clinical relevance of the experimental findings can be confirmed.