Power-law growth models explain incidences and sizes of pancreatic cancer precursor lesions and confirm spatial genomic findings


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is a rare but lethal cancer. Recent evidence reveals that pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasms (PanINs), the microscopic precursor lesions in the pancreatic ducts that can give rise to invasive pancreatic cancer, are significantly larger and more prevalent than previously believed. Better understanding of the growth law dynamics of PanINs may improve our ability to understand how a miniscule fraction of these lesions makes the transition to invasive cancer. Here, using artificial intelligence (AI)-based three-dimensional (3D) tissue mapping method, we measured the volumes of textgreater1,000 PanIN and found that lesion size is distributed according to a power law with a fitted exponent of -1.7 over textgreater 3 orders of magnitude. Our data also suggest that PanIN growth is not very sensitive to the pancreatic microenvironment or an individual’s age, family history, and lifestyle, and is rather shaped by general growth behavior. We analyze several models of PanIN growth and fit the predicted size distributions to the observed data. The best fitting models suggest that both intraductal spread of PanIN lesions and fusing of multiple lesions into large, highly branched structures drive PanIN growth patterns. This work lays the groundwork for future mathematical modeling efforts integrating PanIN incidence, morphology, genomic, and transcriptomic features to understand pancreas tumorigenesis, and demonstrates the utility of combining experimental measurement of human tissues with dynamic modeling for understanding cancer tumorigenesis.

Toby C. Cornish
Toby C. Cornish
Professor of Pathology and Biomedical Informatics

Clinical informaticist, gastrointestinal pathologist, and researcher.