PhysiCell Demo: anti-cancer bio-robots

This is Video S6 in Ghaffarizadeh et al. (2018). A higher-resolution (1080p) video can be streamed at


Using PhysiCell to test design rules for biorobots as a cancer treatment.

Here, we construct two cell types as a bio-robotic cargo delivery system.

1) "Cargo" cells secrete a chemoattractant to attract worker cells when they don't have cargo. They turn off the chemoattractant once they are found. Cargo cells detach themselves in hypoxic regions and secrete a therapeutic drug.

2) "Worker" cells chemotax towards cargo cells, test for presence of a receptor, and dock if it's present. They haul cargo chemotactically towards hypoxic regions.

Cancer cells (green) have a drug-induced damage model in this simulation, and undergo apoptosis at a rate proportional to their damage.

This system successfully delivers a drug past biotransport limits into a growing tumor, without need for tumor-specific "homing".

This simulation took a few hours to design, and ran in about 12 minutes on a desktop workstation, with data saved once per simulated minute. (2,880 save times) Simulations without file I/O are significantly faster.


Green cells: cancer cells

Blue cells: “Cargo” cells

Red cells: “worker” cells

This work is based on PhysiCell, an open source 3-D modeling package for multicellular biology at

Method: Demonstration of PhysiCell, an agent-based, lattice-free model. Cell velocities determined by balance of adhesive, repulsive, and motile forces. Each cell has a phenotypic state governed by stochastic processes derived from nonhomogeneous Poisson processes.

Software source: PhysiCell is available as open source at,, and