Students use math, models to track lung cancer growth

first_imgStudent researchers in the Viterbi School of Engineering are putting math and medicine hand in hand to better track the spread of lung cancer in the human body.The project, which was started   four years ago by researchers from USC, Scripps Clinic, The Scripps Research Institute, University of California, San Diego Moores Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, aims to use mathematical models and algorithms created by Viterbi in order to analyze the science and medicine behind cancer cell growth.Viterbi Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Paul Newton, the lead and corresponding author of this study, said the researchers hope to build computational and mathematical models to design clinical trials and inform doctors of different kinds of treatment scenarios.“The ultimate goal [of this research] is to develop computer simulations and mathematical models that are typically designed for individual patients,” Newton said. “We want models where we take data from an individual patient, which would be something like blood samples and circulating tumor cell counts and also their whole genome, and we would like to have models of each individual person to see how they will develop over time.”Newton said that the current model is a ensemble-based model that is based on thousands of patients. The ultimate goal is to get individual data and do patient-specific modeling.“This is the beginning stage of developing more sophisticated computational models for the spread of cancer,” Newton said. “We have the first stage of this whole project, which is a five-year stage.”Newton said the project faces several challenges, namely translating the research to actual treatments.“One [challenging aspect] is to overcome the language barrier between the medical world and the science and engineering world,” Newton said. “In general, doctors do not think the way scientists and engineers think. They focus on the treatment of the disease. Also, [another challenge is] to overcome the differences in kinds of questions a doctor would ask versus the kinds of questions an applied mathematician like me would ask.”Newton said that two graduate students and two undergraduate students from Viterbi are participating in this project as well.Angie Lee, a graduate student in aerospace and mechanical engineering who is participating in the project, said the project is significant for the advancement of cancer research because engineers and applied mathematicians can bring together information from various disciplines to better understand how cancer affects patients.“I build models of circulating tumor cells in flow in the bloodstream,” Lee said. “It’s been exciting to witness how my models can assist cell biologists, experimentalists and even physicians in understanding the flow physics of various cancer processes in the body.”Though Lee said some people find it strange that an engineer is doing cancer research, she noted that the interdiscipinary research opportunity, and the project’s pragmatic benefits were compelling on a personal level.“This project first caught my eye as something that would be both useful and enjoyable throughout my tenure at USC,” Lee said. “I didn’t want to end up with a project that I didn’t enjoy, and it was an added bonus to work on something that could be useful on a very large scale.”Mher Almasian, a junior majoring in civil engineering who worked on the project, said combining engineering and medicine could not just save time but also money.“The central concept behind all fields of engineering is not just being able to find solutions, but being able to do so given various constraints and doing it in the most efficient and cost-effective manner,” Almasian said. “Applying engineering and math to the field of medicine would naturally lead to the knowledge and resources available in medicine being applied in the most effective and efficient way.”Mary Stepanyan, a senior majoring in human development and aging, said her work on the project has shown her first hand how important interdisciplinary research in medicine.“It’s important to use different areas of study, such as math or engineering, in medicine if it could lead to more efficient ways of studying human health disease,” Stepanyan said. “This study is a great example of how people can combine different areas of study and improve the well-being of human health in the future.”last_img

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