I am back from the summer school organised by members of the EU Network in Dundee, Scotland.
As was the case last year, these summer schools consist of a mixture of lectures given by senior researchers about general topics of cancer modelling and short contributed talks given by the younger (and not so younger) researchers about our specific research.
This year mean topic seemed to be radiotherapy. Radiotherapy works on the principle that tumour cells have a faulty DNA repair mechanism compared with healthy cells. Using radiation it is possible to produce breaks on the DNA which might incapacitate the cell. The trick is in how much and how often. Even if the right amount of radiation is used, too many doses might not allow healthy cells to repair the damage and thus destroy the tissue. Too few doses and then the therapy would be useless.
Now, there are mathematical models (starting with the Linear Quadratic Model) that can predict, given some information about the tissue, what is the best radiation and dosage for a patient. Apart from mathematics we had the luck to have some physicians in the audience. Is always refreshing, coming from the theoretical side, to listen to their point of view. Is also shocking (but necessary if we theoreticians want to understand what is at stake) to see images of patients with breast cancer. Some times, watching our colourful simulations on the screen, it is too easy to forget that Cancer is a disease that kills many people, and not in a particularly painless way.
I’m a chemistry grad. I have attended a summer school of physical chemistry and was also alarmed of the importance of physical/theoretical/mathematical/computational skills in modern research. Does one have to be theoretically robust to conduct good research or typically the theoretical part is done by cooperation with physicists, I wonder?
That’s a good question. I have always (or maybe not always but say, for some time) considered it from the other side: that is, as a theoretician how fluent should I be in the ways of the experimentalist? I guess the problem we both face is similar: one of balance and and width over depth. Some of my colleagues decide to stay on the mathematical side, taking biology only as an inspiration for their equations. Others have taken the opposite route and started taking degrees in medicine and biology so they could be both theoreticians and experimentalists. Without going as far as they did I think that we should be strong in our field but we should feel comfortable speaking and understanding theoreticians if we are experimentalists or experimentalists if we work on the theoretical side.