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Can calculus cure cancer?

The value of using mathematics in a medical context

Oxford professor and mathematician Helen Byrne highlights the exciting applications of maths to model, predict and ultimately improve the effectiveness and development of cancer treatments.

Cancer is a complex disease. While research by clinicians and experimental biologists has dramatically improved outcomes for patients, treatment of cancer's many forms still requires immense work. This work is one of Australia's health imperatives, particularly when we consider that almost 46,000 Australians died from cancer in 2016, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics.

In her talk, Professor Helen Byrne explains how mathematical models are being used to understand how tumours grow and to predict how they will respond to treatments involving, for example, novel combinations of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

She also outlines how mathematical and computational modelling is helping to accelerate the development of new treatments such as immunotherapy and virotherapy.

Helen is then joined by cancer specialist Professor Jennifer Byrne in a conversation to explore how maths and medicine can come together to improve research and outcomes. 

This event was co-presented with the Sydney Mathematical Research Institute and held on Tuesday 12 November, 2019 at the University of Sydney. 

The speakers

Helen is a Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on the development and analysis of mathematical and computational models that describe biomedical systems, with particular application to the growth and treatment of solid tumours, wound healing and tissue engineering.

Her aims in studying such models are two fold: to identify the mechanisms responsible for observed biomedical phenomena and to pinpoint novel features that merit theoretical investigation from the resulting mathematical models.

She is an international representative on the Advisory Board of the University of Sydney Mathematical Research Institute.

Jennifer has spent her scientific career analyzing childhood and adult cancers at a molecular level. Her PhD studies mapped loss of chromosome 11p15 loci in embryonal tumours, and she then identified a novel gene family during postdoctoral studies in France.

Jennifer is Director Of Biobanking with NSW Health Pathology, and Professor of Molecular Oncology in the Faculty of Medicine and Health. She chairs the Biobanking Sub-committee of Australia and New Zealand Children’s Oncology Group, since 2016.

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Event image: Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

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