Chengyue Wu
Chengyue Wu

Dr. Chengyue Wu, postdoctoral research fellow at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, has been awarded the 2023 H. D. Landahl Mathematical Biophysics Award from theSociety of Mathematical Biology

This prestigious award is given once every four years to a single postdoctoral fellow. Wu was chosen for her extremely creative and high impact contributions for diagnosing breast cancer and predicting its response to therapy. Wu is a primary investigator in the Collaboration in Oncological Data and Computational Sciences between the Oden Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, andTexas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). Her interest in this field, however, began several years before.

“It began six years ago when I was a graduate student,” said Wu. “My first project in the Center for Computational Oncology was to use data from MRI imaging to help diagnose breast cancer.”

To tackle this problem, she developed an image processing and kinetic modeling system to separate benign and malignant tumors, later combining it with a fluid dynamics model to better understand how blood flows around a tumor and within its supporting tissue. This allowed her not only to help diagnose cancer but also to simulate the delivery of treatment drugs through the bloodstream, predicting how varying doses and treatment schedules would affect the distribution of drugs around and inside a targeted tumor.

This award from the Society of Mathematical Biology is very prestigious. It's awarded to just one postdoctoral fellow every four years. Chengyue is a brilliant scientist and we are so lucky to have her in our Center.

— Tom Yankeelov

“My advisor, Tom Yankeelov, and I were able to optimize drug delivery for each patient,” said Wu. “We found that after you optimize the schedule and dose for a specific patient, the expected efficacy of treatment can be highly improved. That was a very promising find for that project.”

After completing her PhD in Biomedical Engineering in the summer of 2020, Wu began to build on her work. Since then, she has been combining her drug delivery model with a new model of tumor growth in collaboration with MD Anderson and TACC.

With the images from a breast cancer patient’s pretreatment MRI scan and early-treatment MRI scan, Wu can calibrate her simulation to develop a personalized model of the patient’s tumor evolution. With this model, she can then accurately predict how a given patient might react to specific treatments.  For example, her method aids in forecasting if a tumor could proliferate after a course of chemotherapy with cycles of treatments that last three weeks but shrink after cycles of treatments that last two weeks. Being able to make such early predictions enables a doctor to change or optimize their patient’s treatment, sparing them from painful and exhausting trial runs of varying treatments and doses. 

This tool is especially valuable to - and was specifically designed for - patients suffering from triple negative breast cancer. 

To understand why, imagine a door that stands between a patient and treatment. For all forms of breast cancer except triple negative breast cancer, the door has three locks known as receptors: the hormone estrogen, the hormone progesterone, and a protein called human epidermal growth factor. If a patient’s cancer has at least one of these three locks their oncologist can open the door with new keys like hormone therapy or certain targeted drugs. Triple negative breast cancer has none of them. 

This means that the current treatment of triple negative breast cancer has been mostly reliant on chemotherapy. If a patient reacts badly to chemotherapy, as is frequently the case, there are few alternatives. Moreover, the importance of being able to remove patients from ineffective therapies as early as possible cannot be overstated given that their level of toxicity can result in hospitalization, cardiac damage, leukemia and death. It is imperative that the doses and schedules of treatments go as smoothly as possible. 

With the files of one hundred former MD Anderson cancer patients newly assigned to her, Chengyue Wu is busy at work, testing her model to be sure that it will. 

"The H. D. Landahl Mathematical Biophysics Award from the Society of Mathematical Biology is very prestigious,” said Tom Yankeelov, Director of the Center for Computational Oncology. "It's awarded to just one person every two years. Chengyue is a brilliant young scientist. We are so lucky to have her in our Center.”

 

By Rebecca Riley