Despite recent biotechnological breakthroughs, cancer risk prediction remains a formidable computational and experimental challenge. Addressing it is critical in order to improve prevention, early detection and survival rates. Here, I briefly summarize some key emerging theoretical and computational challenges as well as recent computational advances that promise to help realize the goals of cancer-risk prediction. The focus is on computational strategies based on single-cell data, in particular on bottom-up network modeling approaches that aim to estimate cancer stemness and dedifferentiation at single-cell resolution from a systems-biological perspective. I will describe two promising methods, a tissue and cell-lineage independent one based on the concept of diffusion network entropy, and a tissue and cell-lineage specific one that uses transcription factor regulons. Application of these tools to single-cell and single-nucleus RNA-seq data from stages prior to invasive cancer reveal that they can successfully delineate the heterogeneous inter-cellular cancer-risk landscape, identifying those cells that are more likely to turn cancerous. Bottom-up systems biological modeling of single-cell omic data is a novel computational analysis paradigm that promises to facilitate the development of preventive, early detection and cancer-risk prediction strategies.

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