The thrombotic potential of circulating tumor microemboli: computational modeling of circulating tumor cell-induced coagulation

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2015 Feb 1;308(3):C229-36. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00315.2014. Epub 2014 Nov 19.


Thrombotic events can herald the diagnosis of cancer, preceding any cancer-related clinical symptoms. Patients with cancer are at a 4- to 7-fold increased risk of suffering from venous thromboembolism (VTE), with ∼7,000 patients with lung cancer presenting from VTEs. However, the physical biology underlying cancer-associated VTE remains poorly understood. Several lines of evidence suggest that the shedding of tissue factor (TF)-positive circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and microparticles from primary tumors may serve as a trigger for cancer-associated thrombosis. To investigate the potential direct and indirect roles of CTCs in VTE, we characterized thrombin generation by CTCs in an interactive numerical model coupling blood flow with advection-diffusion kinetics. Geometric measurements of CTCs isolated from the peripheral blood of a lung cancer patient prior to undergoing lobectomy formed the basis of the simulations. Singlet, doublet, and aggregate circulating tumor microemboli (CTM) were investigated in the model. Our numerical model demonstrated that CTM could potentiate occlusive events that drastically reduce blood flow and serve as a platform for the promotion of thrombin generation in flowing blood. These results provide a characterization of CTM dynamics in the vasculature and demonstrate an integrative framework combining clinical, biophysical, and mathematical approaches to enhance our understanding of CTCs and their potential direct and indirect roles in VTE formation.

Keywords: Navier-Stokes equation; advection-diffusion equation; circulating tumor microemboli; coagulation; lung cancer; tissue factor; venous thromboembolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / blood*
  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma / surgery
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung
  • Blood Coagulation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / blood*
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology
  • Patient-Specific Modeling*
  • Venous Thromboembolism / blood*
  • Venous Thromboembolism / etiology