Using math to fight brain cancer; medicine’s next big thing?

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Math equations graphic

PHOENIX, Ariz. Cancer-fighting teams may soon include an oncologist, a surgeon and… a mathematician. Tumor growth isn’t as random as once thought. Mayo Clinic in Phoenix has opened a research lab where the goal is to use math to find the best treatment for brain cancer tumors.

Bernard Bendok, MD, Chairman of Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic, Phoenix explained, “Tumors, in a way, while they may seem to be unpredictable, actually follow a pattern.”

Doctor Bernard Bendok is leading a research team trying to get ahead of that pattern. They’re using MRI scans and other pathology to create mathematical equations to tell them what a brain tumor is likely to do.

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“We’re moving from what I would consider conventional healthcare to individualized health care, where we try to predict and understand how a tumor is behaving, not on average for an average patient, but in a specific patient,” Doctor Bendok stated.

Mathematician Kristin Swanson is the newest warrior on the cancer-fighting team. She looks at data and connects the dots to predict how fast a tumor will grow and where the cells will spread.

Swanson, PhD, Vice Chair, Neurological Surgery at Mayo Clinic, Phoenix explained, “We have all this diverse data across different biological processes within cancers. How do we stitch this together? And that’s where the math comes in. It’s kind of the glue.”

Swanson’s equations will help guide surgeons and radiologists. And some day, they may help oncologists pick the best drugs and clinical trials for patients.

The Mayo research team is currently running a study to validate predictive models of tumor spread. They hope to be in clinical trials using the math model to direct surgery within the year.

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