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12 December 2014

Vital Formulas: Mathematical Biology

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Understanding how life works involves addressing the integration of a multitude of processes that act on a diversity of levels. While the separate study of each melodic line is no doubt necessary, it cannot provide an overall vision of how the symphony will sound as a whole. Philip K. Maini, professor at Oxford University  and a leading international expert in the field of mathematical biology:

“So far, the only framework we have within which to arrive at an understanding of the complex interactions that occur in biology is mathematics”.

His work is closely linked to applications that are absolutely vital, two examples of which he states are: the first, concerning the growth of tumours, and the other on neural crest cell migration in the developing embryo.

Regarding the first application, Maini explains that, “we are researching into how tumour cells affect the PH of the body to aid their own survival at the expense of normal cells. This leads to the intriguing idea that changes in diet may help to contain tumour development”.

In the second application, he and his team are studying how to control neural crest cell migration, a fundamental structure in the development of an embryo that gives rise to derivates such as neurons and cells in the peripheral nervous system, or bones and cartilage in the cranium, etc. According to Maini, an abnormal development in this structure may have “catastrophic” consequences for the embryo. The work carried out by this researcher at the Stower Institute for Medical Research in Kansas, has “with the use of mathematical models brought to light completely new ideas about how this process can be controlled”.

These ideas have subsequently been verified experimentally. For Maini, the importance of mathematics in this field resides in the fact that this discipline “could become an integral part of the weapons used by biologists and physicians to combat the disease”. Thus, mathematics “can help to test and propose new therapeutic strategies, which could save companies a great deal of money in the development of medicines, as well as reducing the number of experiments required”.

This text is an excerpt from an original article by Lorena Cabeza, ICMAT. Find the full text in this Newsletter of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

Instituto de Ciencias Matemáticas (ICMAT)

Mathematical research center set up by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC – Higher Council for Scientific Research) and three universities in Madrid: Autónoma University (UAM), Carlos III University (UC3M) and Complutense University (UCM).

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