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New Center for Applications of Mathematics in Medicine Opens

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‚ÄčA computed distribution of the saltiness of tears over the exposed ocular surface; this case has rapid evaporation and the darkest red indicates a six-fold increase in the saltiness over normal tears (Longfei Li, et al, Math. Med. Biol. 2016).

‚ÄčThe Center for Applications of Mathematics in Medicine (CAMM; www.mathandmedicine.org/) was founded in the College of Arts and Sciences in Spring 2016.  The founding director is Tobin Driscoll, with associate directors Pak-Wing Fok and Richard Braun.  At the time of writing, CAMM boasts 20 faculty members from four departments and two colleges, five external associates, and six students.  Among the members are five holding medical doctorates and a certified radiologist.  The founding of CAMM was celebrated with a reception at the Faculty Commons in April with Deans George Watson, Doug Doren and John Pelesko, Department Chair Louis Rossi, and CAMM members.

CAMM's purpose is to coordinate research and education that advance the application of mathematics and computation to biomedical research and clinical practice in order to improve human health in the state, region, and beyond.

Why math and medicine?  Our understanding of complex biological systems, including human health, are increasingly based on quantitative measurement and models built from first principles. Physicians are often brilliant empiricists but are not usually as well trained to apply mathematical and computational techniques are the staples of applied mathematicians. Similarly, academic mathematicians need guidance to find medical problems that are relevant to medical science or clinical practice and that would benefit from mathematical models.  By facilitating collaboration between the members of these communities, CAMM enhances current mathematical knowledge in medicine and accelerates the understanding of intellectual challenges that will shape new approaches to relevant problems and new generations of mathematical researchers.

Our research projects cover a wide range already; they including treatment of neonatal heart conditions, tear film and ocular surface dynamics, atherosclerosis, the BIAcore optical biosensor, and models for cancellous bone.  Short introductory videos by some of our members can be found at www.mathandmedicine.org/projects.

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Part of the foundation of CAMM is a series of projects on the tear film and the ocular surface.   Profs. Braun and Driscoll have been funded by the NSF since 2007 and the NIH since 2010.  They work closely with research associates Profs. Carolyn Begley (Indiana Optometry) and P. Ewen King-Smith (Ohio State Optometry).  This set of projects has studied tear film motion during blinking, tear flow and saltiness (osmolarity) over the exposed ocular surface, and the breakup (disruption) of the tear film in small local areas.  The results have appeared in top eye and mathematical journals, has produced 4 PhDs to date, and will produce three more PhDs and one MS student in the near future.  Sixteen undergraduate students have worked on summer and thesis projects, with three winning undergraduate research awards, two going on to study optometry, one studying medicine, and others to mathematics, economics and finance.

The hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) project began in 2013 with a collaboration between Profs. Driscoll and Gilberto Schleiniger, PhD student Lei Chen and Dr. Michael McCulloch of Nemours/AI duPont Hospital for Children.  HLHS is a cardiac birth defect with a 20% mortality rate in the first year of life. Understanding the physiology of a patient in real time in the hospital is challenging but mathematical models of the heart and circulatory system have been developed that aid in this critical function. The needed parameters for the model are determined based on continuously collected bedside vital signs. The project goal is to provide clinicians with patient-specific warnings and diagnostics to provide timely treatment and prevention measures.  The project is a seeing a surge in participation with four new undergraduates and one new PhD student in the summer of 2016. The project is currently supported by funds from the Delaware IDeA Network of Biomedical Research (INBRE) grant, UD Summer Scholars, UD Summer Fellows and the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

Other projects include a recent PhD thesis by Dr. Brooks Emerick, under the guidance of Prof.  Schleiniger and Dr. Bruce Boman of Christiana Care, Thomas Jefferson University and UD.  They developed a model of colon cancer development in colonic crypts.  Prof. Fok and collaborators have developed effective models for atherosclerosis and vulnerable plaques, which are thought to be important in the onset of heart attacks.  The properties and dynamics of cancellous bone, and how they change in health or with osteoporosis, has been the subject of studies by Prof. Yvonne Ou and her collaborators.  Prof. David Edwards and collaborators have studied the BIAcore optical biosensor; this device noninvasively measures reaction rates between important biological molecules, and its results are improved with accurate mathematical models to help interpret the results.  Eight undergraduate students and three graduate students have worked on the project; two PhD dissertations have been completed.  This project has been funded by both NSF and the National Institute for General Medical Sciences. 

This has just been a quick summary of some of CAMM activities.  CAMM will continue to add projects and members, and we look forward to growing; there is so much more that we could do.  You can help us with our projects and growth by donating to support our students, collaborations, and expenses at www.mathandmedicine.org/donate.html.

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