Can computation help cure cancer?


Session type:

Jasmin Fisher1
1Microsoft Research Cambridge and University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK


Computational modelling is rapidly developing into a cornerstone of biomedical research, driven by the need to integrate highly complex multidimensional data and its potential to reveal underlying mechanistic principles. 'Executable biology' is a pioneering approach focussed on the design of executable computer programs that recapitulate biological phenomena. While traditional mechanistic models in biology are usually described by diagrams (giving a fairly static picture of cellular processes), executable biology seeks to translate such static diagrams into dynamic models using formal computational methods that were originally designed for the construction and analysis of complex man-made systems (i.e. computers and computer programs). In this talk I will survey some of the modelling efforts in this direction, and emphasise the applicability and benefits of executable models in cancer research. I will conclude with a call for a mind shift, arguing that a new, cross-disciplinary approach, using computer modelling and formal verification is needed to systematically identify the causes of cancers and the ‘program' of life. I suggest that only such an approach can help us cure and control cancer, and highlight some of the major challenges that executable biology poses for biological and medical research.