Publication Date

Spring 4-15-2017


Cancer is a disease caused by mutations in normal cells. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2016, an estimated 1.6 million people were diagnosed and approximately 0.5 million people died from the disease in the United States. There are many factors that shape cancer at the cellular and organismal level, including genetic, immunological, and environmental components. In this thesis, we show how mathematical modeling can be used to provide insight into some of the key mechanisms underlying cancer dynamics. First, we use mathematical modeling to investigate optimal homeostatic cell renewal in tissues such as the small intestine with an emphasis on division patterns and tissue architecture. We find that the division patterns that delay the accumulation of mutations are strictly associated with the population sizes of the tissue. In particular, patterns with long chains of differentiation delay the time to observe a second-hit mutant, which is important given that for many cancers two mutations are enough to initiate a tumor. We also investigated homeostatic cell renewal under a selective pressure and find that hierarchically organized tissues act as suppressors of selection; we find that an architecture with a small number of stem cells and larger pools of transit amplifying cells and mature differentiated cells, together with long chains of differentiation, form a robust evolutionary strategy to delay the time to observe a second-hit mutant when mutations acquire a fitness advantage or disadvantage. We also formulate a model of the immune response to cancer in the presence of costimulatory and inhibitory signals. We demonstrate that the coordination of such signals is crucial to initiate an effective immune response, and while immunotherapy has become a promising cancer treatment over the past decade, these results offer some explanations for why it can fail.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Mathematics & Statistics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Helen Wearing

Second Committee Member

Natalia Komarova

Third Committee Member

Gabriel Huerta

Fourth Committee Member

Jens Lorenz




cancer modeling, proliferation patterns, immune checkpoints, cell renewal

Document Type