Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

New Cancer Therapies From Genomics And Maths

May 6, 2010

The cancer treatments of tomorrow may be delivered as much by mathematics as by medicine, Professor Terry Speed of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute will tell the Australian Academy of Science’s symposium on Genomics and Mathematics tomorrow.

Our genome is the entire complement of our genes, and much more, all the DNA in all our chromosomes. Genomics is the study of genomes.

‘The new technologies brought together by the combination of genomics and mathematics allows for finer discrimination in how we treat peoples’ diseases. For example, breast cancers in two patients might be treated quite differently depending on their tumor genomes,’ Professor Speed describes.

‘One of the difficulties with cancer is that every tumor has a different combination of mutations ““ some have pieces missing from their genomes, some have additional pieces or their chromosomes are combined in the wrong way. However, with the limited data available in the past each tumor – although different – would be dealt with using general treatments. This is all about to change.’

Professor Speed explains that with the current advances in genomics and the mathematical sciences, things are looking up for cancer diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. By giving researchers a far better understanding of tumor genomes, the identification of different types of tumors allows for more accurate prognosis and more ‘personalized medicine’ ““ using a specific treatment for a specific type of cancer.

‘We can use genomic technologies to collect information about the tumors and then apply maths and statistics to catalogue the abnormalities associated with them,’ Professor Speed says. ‘As genomics research has advanced in recent years, the generation of genomic data has shot far above even the exponentially increasing levels seen in the last quarter century. In this era vastly more genomic data are being generated for a fraction of the previous cost.’

‘Due to the quantity of information, there is now a demand for computational and mathematical techniques to cope with it. In the context of cancer research, mathematics, statistics and computer science are needed to perform careful analyses to identify which piece of puzzle is missing from the picture.’

‘While we are unlikely to see the headline ‘Mathematician cures cancer!’ any time soon, the mathematical sciences are becoming increasingly important to areas such as cancer research.’

When asked to predict where this is all leading, he quoted author Antoine de Saint-Exupery: ‘As for the future, (y)our task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.’

As the first presenter at the Science at the Shine Dome symposium, he will give an overview of genomics and mathematics research, presenting a talk titled ‘Integrating science, technology, data and mathematics’.

The symposium ““ Genomics and Mathematics ““ will be held at the Shine Dome on May7  2010 from 8.50am to 5.30pm. Media are welcome to attend and interview participants.

Details of the Symposium program are at: www.science.org.au/events/sats/sats2010/symposium.html