Log in

Spring 2023 Newsletter

31 Mar 2023 3:40 AM | Anonymous

Alys Clark (University of Auckland), Sara Loo (Johns Hopkins University), Fiona R. Macfarlane (University of St Andrews), and Thomas Woolley (Cardiff University).

  1. News – updates from: 
  2. People – Interview with Prof. Trachette Jackson, recipient of the Leah Edelstein-Keshet Prize.
  3. Editorial – Guest editorial from the SMB DEI committee highlighting the DEI panels from ECMTB 2022.
  4. Featured Figures – Highlighting the research by early career researcher, Sara Hamis (Tampere University) and highlighting the most downloaded paper from the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology in February 2023.

To see the articles in this issue, click the links at the above items.

Contributing Content

Issues of the newsletter are released four times per year in Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. The newsletter serves the SMB community with news and updates, so please share it with your colleagues and contribute content to future issues.

We welcome your submissions to expand the content of the newsletter.  The next issue will be released in late August, so if you would like to contribute, please send an email to the editors by the start of August 2023 to discuss how your content can be included. This could include summaries of relevant conferences that you have attended, suggestions for interviews, professional development opportunities etc. Please note that job advertisements should be sent to the SMB digest rather than to the newsletter.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve the newsletter and would like to become more involved and/or contribute, please contact us at any time. We appreciate and welcome feedback and ideas from the community. The editors can be reached at

We hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter!

Alys, Sara, Fiona, and Thomas
Editors, SMB Newsletter

News Section

By Sara LooNews image

In this issue of the News section, we highlight the updates from the SMB Subgroups, Royal Society Publishing and the upcoming SMB Conference. Read on below.

SMB Subgroups Update

Mathematical Epidemiology Subgroup & Population Dynamics, Ecology and Evolution Subgroup

The Mathematical Epidemiology (MEPI) subgroup in collaboration with the Population Dynamics, Ecology and Evolution (PDEE) subgroup ran a joint virtual mini-conference in late February. The conference ran from 12-4 pm (EST) across three days to allow more than 200 registered participants from many areas around the world to attend. The schedule featured plenary talks by Folashade Agusto (University of Kansas), Benito Chen-Charpentier (University of Texas, Arlington) and Brandon Ogbunu (Yale University) as well as 18 contributed talks from researchers working on a range of topics in epidemiology, ecology and evolution. In addition to the stimulating talks, the conference featured a panel discussion on funding and research at the interface of Mathematical Epidemiology, Ecology and Evolution with Luis Fernando Chaves (Indiana University, Bloomington) and Zhilan Feng (Purdue University and NSF).

To round out the conference, participants broke into working groups on a variety of topics, some of which resulted in upcoming mini-symposium at the SMB Annual Meeting. The MEPI subgroup leadership, Lauren Childs (Virginia Tech) and Michael Robert (Virginia Tech) give many thanks to the co-organizers from MEPI and PDEE Christina Cobbold (University of Glasgow), Daniel Cooney (University of Pennsylvania), Gilberto Gonzalez-Parra (New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology), Annalisa Iurio (University of Vienna), Rocio Caja Riveria (University of South Florida) and James Watamough (University of New Brunswick) without which the mini-conference could not have run.
Conference website:

Immunobiology and Infection Subgroup

The Immunobiology and Infection subgroup, the Society for Mathematical Biology (SMB), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are organizing a half-day workshop on Bridging multiscale modeling and practical clinical applications in infectious diseases.  The workshop will take place during the 2023 SMB meeting at Ohio State on July 18th from 1pm-5pm EST with a networking event to follow. Registration for the workshop can be done when registering for the Annual Meeting. Information on the schedule and speakers is available on the workshop’s website. Hope to see you there!

Mathematical Neuroscience Subgroup

The Mathematical Neuroscience subgroup is in dire need for fresh new people with new ideas to consider running for subgroup officer positions, all of the current officers’ terms are finished in July 2023. For those in the Mathematical Neuroscience community who want to be a part of SMB, we urge you to consider running for a subgroup officer position. Our subgroup in particular has many established organizations / conferences (Society for Neuroscience, Computational Systems Neuroscience (COSYNE), NeurIPS, Organization for Computational Neuroscience (OCNS), SIAM, etc.) that make it challenging to recruit new and effective officers, but there are exciting possibilities to grow MathNeuro within the broader Mathematical Biology community via SMB.

We currently have 3 to 5 officer positions filled, including: Chair, Vice-Chair, Advisory Committee Members (at least 1 and up to 3). After serving for 4 years, Cheng Ly is looking to step down as chairperson if we can find someone else, and the Vice-Chair (Pam Pyzza) will definitely end her role after July 2023.  The other member (Advisory Committee, Chitaranjan Mahapatra) will also be up for re-election. 

Royal Society Publishing


The following Royal Society issues have been highly cited, downloaded and are also fully OPEN ACCESS:

Technical challenges of modelling real-life epidemics and examples of overcoming these compiled and edited by Dr Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, Dr William Waites, and Professor Graeme J Ackland and the articles are FREELY available online at Read more in a blog post by one of the Guest Editors.

Modelling that shaped the early COVID-19 pandemic response in the UK

Compiled and edited by Ellen Brooks-Pollock, Leon Danon, Thibaut Jombart and Lorenzo Pellis and the articles are FREELY available online at A print version is also available at the special price of £40.00 per issue from

Royal Society Publishing are also looking for new theme issues and if you are interested in submitting, please visit the website or contact the Editorial Office for more information –

Upcoming Conferences and Workshops

Diversity in Math Bio Summer Seminar Series

Join the Society for Mathematical Biology and the DEI Committee as we celebrate diversity in mathematical biology this summer! Learn about the breadth of research in math bio and hear from diverse mathematical biologists! Seminars will be via Zoom at 11:00 EDT / 17:00 CEST bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Register to receive the Zoom information:

Workshop on Mathematical Perspectives on Immunobiology

September 11-14 in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. Topics include mathematical modeling and computational analysis of phenomena and processes in the immune system, host-pathogen interactions, onset, and progress in human diseases. See the webpage for more details:

Viral dynamics workshop

July 4-6 in Nagoya Japan. A smaller meeting focused intensely on modeling virus dynamics. See the webpage for more details:

Back to the top


By Alys ClarkImage for People section


This issue’s interview is with Professor Trachette Jackson. Full interview here.

Back to the top

EditorialImage for Editorial Section

SMB DEI Panels highlighted unique career paths and inclusive graduate programs at ECMTB 2022

By Anna Konstorum and Jess Kreger, on behalf of the SMB DEI committee 

The highly interdisciplinary nature of mathematical biology means that in all stages of a professional career, researchers and educators will be faced with challenges ranging from how to structure equitable graduate programs, to how to build meaningful career paths in the field.  In the spirit of addressing these challenges, the SMB’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee organized two enriching panel discussions at ECMTB 2022 that allowed panelists to share their personal and professional experiences and advice.

The first panel, Equity of Paths into Mathematical Biology, was hosted live by Adam MacLean (USC), co-hosted and co-organized by Stacey Finley (USC) and Anna Konstorum (Yale U.), and featured speakers Miranda Lynch (Hauptman-Woodward), Luis Sordo Vieira (U. Florida), and Aurélie Carlier (Maastricht University).  The panelists discussed how their unique backgrounds contributed to their perspectives and experiences in mathematical biology.  With backgrounds ranging from pure math (Sordo Vieira) to biomedical engineering (Carlier) and statistics (Lynch), the panelists provided advice on what sort of resources researchers should seek out regardless of their background, including seeking out mentors and collaborators who can help fill in background that may be missing, taking advantage of professional societies to expand one’s network, and learning how to communicate with non-mathematicians.  There was a strong consensus that it was necessary to build meaningful dialogue and collaborations with biologists, and to work to educate them on what is needed for effective model development.  Sordo Vieira reminded listeners to not self-disqualify themselves from goals that may seem like a pivot from their background.  Good advice for those engaged in interdisciplinary research!

The second panel, Building inclusive graduate programs in mathematical biology, also hosted live by MacLean and co-hosted and co-organized by Veronica Ciocanel (Duke U), Daniel Cruz (U. Florida), and Jesse Kreger (USC) featured Suzanne Sindi (UC Merced), Alun Lloyd (NCSU), Gibin Powathil (Swansea U), and Padmini Rangamani (UCSD).  Each of the panelists discussed their experiences building inclusive graduate programs where program requirements are focused on student success and students are supported in their coursework/research. There was great discussion on topics ranging from changing archaic program “standards” to graduate student compensation and housing issues. Common themes throughout included 1) while inclusive recruitment strategies have recently been a hot topic for many programs, the focus for program leaders needs to also be on retainment and support for current students, and 2) that recruitment, retainment, and building inclusive programs requires a large amount of both emotional and physical labor – and that the duty to do the hard work falls on all faculty in positions of power. The panel concluded with a critical student-focused question: “What advice to give to a student who is not feeling valued or supported in their program?”, with Sindi encouraging students to “Find. Your. People.” and Rangamani reminding us to “define value for yourself. Value does not come from [your] CV.”

The SMB DEI committee acknowledges limitations of the panels hosted; there is always more to do. In particular, the panels at ECMTB had a US-centered focus, especially with regards to teaching and PhD mentorship. We hope future discussions will draw in more geographical diversity of our international society. Overall, we have taken away from these panels reminders that may help others, regardless of career stage: reminding us of the importance of collaboration, of networking, and of respect, for ourselves and for those around us. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

At the SMB 2023 annual meeting, the SMB DEI committee will host a new DEI Session and Panel, as well as a lunch gathering for SMB members interested in learning more about the committee and providing input.  All SMB members are invited to continue and join these important conversations in person. For more details on DEI and all events at the SMB 2023 annual meeting, visit

Back to the top

Featured Figures

By Fiona Macfarlane

Early Career Feature

In this issue, our featured early career researcher is Dr Sara Hamis (Tampere University) who recently published the paper “Spatial cumulant models enable spatially informed treatment strategies and analysis of local interactions in cancer systems”. Sara tells us about her work below:

My research focus is on quantifying cell-cell interactions in cancer systems and evaluating the role that these interactions play in therapy resistance and disease progression. Going into this study, my goal was to create a mathematical and computational modelling framework to study pairwise cell-cell interactions, and the impact that these have on cell population dynamics. I wanted the framework to generate models that

  • are spatio-temporal,
  • are analytical,
  • maintain cell-discreteness, and
  • are easily generalisable to study a wide range of (cancer) cell systems.

After some spelunking into theoretical ecology and probability theory literature, I encountered spatial cumulant models (SCMs) which fulfill (a-d). SCMs are differential equation-based population models that are translated from a specific family of individual-based models, namely spatio-temporal point processes (STPPs). Following a mathematical manipulation that involves a perturbation expansion around mean-field equations in the limit of long-ranged interactions, SCMs approximate two STPP-generated summary statistics: first-order spatial cumulants (densities) and second-order spatial cumulants (spatial covariances). SCM densities are formulated as mean-field densities plus a correction term that depends on the spatial covariance.

I teamed up with theoretical ecologists and biologists, probability theorists, and mathematical, experimental, and clinical cancer experts (Somervuo, Åberg, Tadele, Kesseli, Scott, Nykter, Gerlee, Finkelshtein, Ovaskainen) to study cancer through the lens of SCMs. In our recent paper, we exemplify how SCMs can be used in mathematical oncology by modelling theoretical cancer cell populations comprising both growth factor-producing and non-producing cells that interact with each other (see Figure). Importantly, these interactions are localised in space so that cells that are close together are more likely to interact than cells that are far apart. In the top figure, snapshots of such a population are shown at three different time points (t=0, t=100, t=200). From both MFPM and SCM equations, we derive treatment-induced death rates required to achieve non-growing cell populations. We apply these death rates at the treatment time (here, t=200) and thus implicitly model two different treatment strategies. When testing these treatment strategies in STPP-generated cell populations, our results show that SCM-informed strategies outperform MFPM-informed strategies in terms of inhibiting population growths (Figure, bottom). Each growth curve in the bottom figure represents cell population densities from one simulation.

To produce these results, we developed an application-agnostic computational pipeline to calculate and compare population-level summary statistics generated by STPPs, SCMs and MFPMs. A gentle and interactive introduction to this pipeline is linked here. As our article challenges the dichotomy between individual-based and analytical cancer models, we argue that SCMs can be used to increase IBMs’ applicability in cancer research. We also anticipate that the opportunity to analytically derive spatially informed cancer treatment strategies, as enabled via SCMs, will inspire new theoretical and experimental research ventures.

You can find out more about this exciting work here:

Most downloaded article in Bulletin of Mathematical Biology in February 2023

The most downloaded article from the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology in February 2023 was authored by Alan Garfinkel, Steve Bennoun, Eric Deeds and Blaire Van Valkenburgh (all from University of California, Los Angeles) and was titled “Teaching Dynamics to Biology Undergraduates: the UCLA Experience”.


Figure: Upper: the change equation is used to set up a vector field, a function from points in State Space to points in Tangent Space. Lower: At representative points in (T, S)-space, we draw the appropriate change vector (T’, S’)*1, where the constant 1 has the units of time

The paper reports on a new course for Life Sciences freshmen/sophomores, introducing them to mathematics through modeling and dynamics in the context of important applications in biology.  This includes introductions on how to make a model, programming, derivatives and integrals, bifurcations, oscillations, linear algebra and partial derivatives. The key to their approach is to view a differential equation not as an equation, but as a vector field, a function from state space into tangent space. At each point in state space, the vector field gives the change instructions that apply at that point.  This geometric approach embodies 20th century rigor, but it also decouples the idea of math from the approach that math is all about banging on formulas with symbolic techniques to produce other formulas:  the rigorous geometric concept also makes for better pedagogy. The attached Figure from the paper conveys this methodology.

You can read more about this interesting work here:

© 2023 - Society for Mathematical Biology | Site by
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software