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Section: Overall Objectives

Research axis 2: Multi-scale modeling of hematopoiesis and leukemia

Executive summary

Hematopoiesis is a complex process that begins with hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and results in formation of mature cells: red blood cells, white cells and platelets. Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, from where mature cells are released into the blood stream. Hematopoiesis is based on a balance between cell proliferation (including self-renewal), differentiation and apoptosis. The choice between these three possibilities is determined by intra-cellular regulatory networks and by numerous control mechanisms in the bone marrow or carried out by other organs. Intra-cellular regulatory networks are complex biochemical reactions involving proteins, enzymes and signalling molecules. The deregulation of hematopoiesis can result in numerous blood diseases including leukemia (a cancer of blood cells). One important type of leukemia is Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). The strong tyrosine kinase activity of the BCR-ABL protein is the basis for the main cell effects that are observed in CML: significant proliferation, anti-apoptotic effect, disruption of stroma adhesion properties. This explains the presence in CML blood of a very important number of cells belonging to the myeloid lineage, at all stages of maturation.

Multi-scale modeling in hematopoiesis holds a great potential. A variety of techniques exists to deal with this problem. However, the complexity of the system poses new difficulties and leads to the development of new tools. The expected results of this study are numerous. On one hand, it will shed new light on the different physiological mechanisms that converge toward the continuous regeneration of blood cells, for example: the understanding of deregulation of erythropoiesis (the process of red blood cell production) under drug treatments (this can lead to lack of red blood cells (anemia), or a surplus of red blood cells), the dynamic of leukemic cells under the action of drugs and the control of their resistance to these treatments.

Project team positioning

Multi-scale modeling of hematopoiesis is one of the key points of the project that has started in the early stage of the Dracula team. Investigated by all the team members, it took many years of close discussion with biologists to get the best understanding of the key role played by the most important molecules, hormones, kinase cascade, cell communication up to the latest knowledge. One of the important questions here is to identify particular biological mechanisms (intracellular regulation, control mechanisms) and to integrate them in the different models. Our main work consisted in the development of a hybrid (continuous/discrete) model for red blood cell progenitor proliferation, survival/death, differentiation, and migration. Cells are modeled as discrete objects, and the extracellular medium is described by continuous equations for extracellular concentrations. This is to our knowledge the most complete model for erythropoiesis to date, and the only one using a multi-scale formalism. Other models published by our group and others for hematopoiesis are population-based models, mostly population structured equations (transport partial differential equations or delay differential equations). The interest in modeling hematopoiesis dates back to the 70's and two groups have been responsible for most of development in the past 40 years: Markus Loeffer's team in Leipzig, Germany (Wichmann et al. 1976, in Mathematical Models in Medicine) and Michael Mackey's team at McGill University, Montreal, Canada (Mackey 1978, Blood). Our model differs from population based models in that the regulation is directly modeled at the molecular level (See Figure 1) rather than acting on rates at the population level. Thus we can take into account non-predictable effects of interactions between different molecular pathways and between cells that would otherwise be lost in the global population rates.

Regarding modeling leukemia, we concentrated on Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) and its treatment. We considered models based on ordinary differential equations for the action of the main proteins involved in CML (as BCR-ABL protein), and of transport equations (with or without delay, physiologically structured or not) to represent healthy and leukemic cell populations, take into account many interactions between proteins (especially BCR-ABL), cells (anti-apoptotic effect, etc.). The development of models for CML allowed us to interact with Franck Nicolini in Lyon (Centre Hospitalier de Lyon) and Doron Levy (Maryland University, Different schools developed models for CML and its treatment. The three leading groups are the ones of Franziska Michor (Harvard School of public health,, Ingo Roeder (Institute for Medical Informatics and Biometry, Dresden, and Michael Mackey (McGill University,


Members of the team have worked for several years in collaboration with biologists (François Morlé, University Lyon 1) and hematologists (Charles Dumontet, Lyon and Mark Koury, Nashville, on the Modelling of normal and pathological hematopoiesis .

The work on modeling Leukemia is based on two major collaborations: firstly, an ongoing (since 2011) mathematical collaboration with the University of Maryland through the program Associate Teams Inria project, “Modelling Leukemia” ( Secondly, an ongoing (since 2012) collaboration with a clinician from Hospices Civils de Lyon (Dr. F.E. Nicolini). In this framework, we shall have soon access to the data of the clinical trial PETALs (2×100 patients).