"When two former classmates from elementary schools meet for an aperitif, sometimes a scientific article comes out that blends astrophysics and oncology .." Thus begins in a post by Francesco Tombesi, associate professor of astrophysics at the Department of Physics of the University of Roma "Tor Vergata".

The article was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Oncology. The first author is Matteo Santoni, oncologist at the Macerata hospital, while the co-author is Francesco Tombesi, an astrophysicist expert in supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei (Agn).

The article talks about the conceptual parallelism between supermassive black holes, objects that usually populate the center of galaxies around the universe, and the evolution of cancer. The approach used to create this interdisciplinary intertwining is called multi-scale. In essence, it is a question of breaking down a complex phenomenon that acts over different distances, or scales precisely, to describe its behaviour in a series of concentric shells - ranging from small to large, from local to global.

In detail, in the approach proposed in both cases, the phenomena considered occur on a scale of six orders of magnitude. In the biological / medical case they range from the cellular scale (μm) to the scale of the human body (m), while in astrophysics they range from the scale of active galactic nuclei (mpc) to the scale corresponding to the size of of an entire galaxy (kpc).

By following the statements of the authors of the article, you can learn how it is expected that these two disciplines can benefit, teach and develop from each other. From the astrophysical point of view we have that,

«The mathematical and statistical approaches developed in oncology to study extremely complex phenomena dependent on many parameters could be borrowed by astrophysicists to investigate the exchange of matter and energy of galactic nuclei active on galactic scales», arguments Francesco Tombesi.

While from a medical point of view the oncologist Matteo Santorini states that,

«Predicting the behaviour of a neoplasm in terms of growth, interactions with the cells of the immune system and the ability to metastasize in certain locations and at pre-established times by means of defined mathematical models would have a fundamental impact in the treatment and follow-up of these patients and would represent a conspicuous step forward towards the personalization of care».

The main center several disciplines is trying to model "interaction". Interaction that in this case can concern, for instance, the winds and jets produced by the black hole as, at the same time, the various components of the cancer microenvironment.

Francesco Tombesi concludes by saying that, «Given the similarities between the two multi-scale approaches in the study of the growth and feedback cycle in supermassive black holes and the cancer evolution environment [...] we are planning to organize interdisciplinary conferences in the future to increase the interaction between our two scientific communities».

We just have to wait for the evolution of these interesting interdisciplinary collaborations.


Article on Frontiers in Oncology: https://doi.org/10.3389/fonc.2021.634818