Predictive modeling of in vivo response to gemcitabine in pancreatic cancer

PLoS Comput Biol. 2013;9(9):e1003231. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003231. Epub 2013 Sep 19.


A clear contradiction exists between cytotoxic in-vitro studies demonstrating effectiveness of Gemcitabine to curtail pancreatic cancer and in-vivo studies failing to show Gemcitabine as an effective treatment. The outcome of chemotherapy in metastatic stages, where surgery is no longer viable, shows a 5-year survival <5%. It is apparent that in-vitro experiments, no matter how well designed, may fail to adequately represent the complex in-vivo microenvironmental and phenotypic characteristics of the cancer, including cell proliferation and apoptosis. We evaluate in-vitro cytotoxic data as an indicator of in-vivo treatment success using a mathematical model of tumor growth based on a dimensionless formulation describing tumor biology. Inputs to the model are obtained under optimal drug exposure conditions in-vitro. The model incorporates heterogeneous cell proliferation and death caused by spatial diffusion gradients of oxygen/nutrients due to inefficient vascularization and abundant stroma, and thus is able to simulate the effect of the microenvironment as a barrier to effective nutrient and drug delivery. Analysis of the mathematical model indicates the pancreatic tumors to be mostly resistant to Gemcitabine treatment in-vivo. The model results are confirmed with experiments in live mice, which indicate uninhibited tumor proliferation and metastasis with Gemcitabine treatment. By extracting mathematical model parameter values for proliferation and death from monolayer in-vitro cytotoxicity experiments with pancreatic cancer cells, and simulating the effects of spatial diffusion, we use the model to predict the drug response in-vivo, beyond what would have been expected from sole consideration of the cancer intrinsic resistance. We conclude that this integrated experimental/computational approach may enhance understanding of pancreatic cancer behavior and its response to various chemotherapies, and, further, that such an approach could predict resistance based on pharmacokinetic measurements with the goal to maximize effective treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / therapeutic use*
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Deoxycytidine / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Gemcitabine
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Deoxycytidine
  • Gemcitabine