How Math Is Leading to Breakthroughs in Cancer, Breath Tests and Understanding of Glaucoma

What do you get when you put mathematicians and physiologists in a room together? The question may sound like the beginning of a joke, but the answer is not a punchline. Last week, math modelers and experts who study the body’s smallest blood vessels—called the microcirculation—met in Scottsdale, Ariz. This group of elite scientists explored how computer models and imaging tools can help doctors and researchers better understand physiological problems related to the microcirculation.

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Cancer affects many people’s lives, whether the diagnosis is your own or belongs to a family member or friend. Researchers have found that new computer applications and software may help researchers understand how cancer cells move through the bloodstream. These tools may also predict how people with certain types of cancer will respond to immunotherapy, a type of treatment that uses your own immune system to attack cancer cells. Combining mathematical data with new imaging techniques can also help doctors get the full picture of how a cancerous tumor grows and spreads. These findings could lead to more targeted treatments that destroy the cancer without killing healthy cells.

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You may not know that your breath contains chemicals that could help diagnose diseases ranging from lung cancer to bacterial infections to multiple sclerosis. This is because the chemicals—called volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—in the breath of healthy people are different than in those with certain health problems. Researchers from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio have found that VOCs build up over time and results of a breath test may vary depending on what time of day you take the test. Computer modeling could help make this type of test more accurate.

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Glaucoma is an eye disease that can cause blindness if it’s not treated. Higher-than-normal pressure of fluids in the eye can cause glaucoma, but doctors aren’t always sure why higher pressure leads to disease. A new study from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York uses a computer model of the eye to look at how fast blood flows and what the vessels look like. The model can help eye doctors and researchers learn more about risk factors for developing glaucoma.

Researchers also discussed:

Read more highlights from the American Physiological Society (APS) Interface of Mathematical Models and Experimental Biology: Role of the Microvasculature Conference on the APS website.

Erica Roth

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