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The more frayed, the more malignant: A tumour cell can be distinguished by its fractal geometry, or rather, its degree of fractality. The cell on the right displays a greater degree of fractality than that on the left, which is an indication of its stronger aggressiveness. © MPI for Intelligent Systems

The geometry of cancer cells

Malignant and healthy cells display characteristic fractal patterns, which can be used to tell them apart

  • 05 December 2013

new approach has given rise to the hope for a faster and more reliable method for determining cancer cell types. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart and the University of Heidelberg found that cells can be very accurately characterised using fractal geometry. This theory describes objects whose minute structural details resemble their larger contours. Cancer cells are not able to regulate their growth and, as a consequence their shape, as effectively as healthy cells. The particular fractal geometry of a cell therefore becomes a marker of the cell type. Using this mathematical method in combination with sophisticated image recognition, it is possible to establish the progression of cancer in a cell. The researchers studied the statistical distribution of the occurrence of structural details on the surface of different tumour cells, and were thus able to identify cancer cells with more accuracy than when using the conventional immunohistological method. Moreover, they were able to distinguish between different tumours.