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Autumn 2023 Newsletter Part 2

25 Jan 2024 11:04 PM | Anonymous

Autumn 2023 Newsletter

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

  1. People – Interviews with Dr Adrianne Jenner and Dr Michael Watson.
  2. Editorial – on 'Research that is worth a thousand words: Visualising a conference' on the theme of conference illustration.
  3. Featured Figures – Highlighting the research by early career researcher Chloé Colson and highlighting the most accessed paper from the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology August 2023 issue.


By Sara Loo

We interviewed Dr Adrianne Jenner, lecturer at Queensland University of Technology, find out more here.


We interviewed Dr Michael Watson, lecturer in Applied Mathematics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and co-chair of the Cardiovascular Modelling subgroup, find out more here.

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Image for Editorial Section

By Thomas Wooley

Research that is worth a thousand words: Visualising a conference

Conferences, workshops, and study groups serve as critical hubs for innovative discussions and interdisciplinary collaborations. Yet, the traditional format of these gatherings has remained steadfast – talks, slides and projectors. Unfortunately, the insights shared during these talks often prove to be as transient as a fading dream, slipping away quickly, leaving us with fleeting memories.

Taking notes during lectures can help, and if the speaker is willing, you can supplement them with presentation slides. However, more often than not, we find ourselves returning from these events with notebooks filled with intricate spider diagrams and hastily scribbled ideas that seem more at home on a conspiracy theorist's corkboard.

The most recent innovation has been recorded talks; you can literally relive the presentation. However, spotty connection issues, poor sound recording and non-existent video editing aside, surely, we must be able to make memory recall more… fun?

While lectures and presentations will always be the core of these gatherings, there's an untapped approach that could revolutionise the conference experience – conference illustration. Illustrations are not only visually captivating, making even the most mundane topics intriguing, but they also provide tangible outputs that can be used to showcase current and future work, satisfy funding requirements, and elevate audience engagement.

An illustrated talk by Maria Abou Chakra on the presentation The Climate Game.

My introduction to this practice occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic when Maria Abou Chakra's remarkable work began circulating on Twitter. I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore her talents in mathematical biology and artistry by following her on Twitter, @MariaAbouChakra, (yes, I refuse to call it X) and visiting her collection of sci-sketches on her website ( Her work is both beautiful and highly informative. She truly is a renaissance woman with a foot both in the science and the aesthetic!

I've had the privilege of presenting for Maria at the "Modelling Cell Development and Regeneration Discussion Group," and I've consistently used her illustrations to convey my work to academic and lay audiences. They're undeniably more appealing than a slew of equations and technical jargon.

Maria’s illustration of my talk about putting stochasticity, or “noise”, in biological patterning systems.

  • During a recent conversation with Maria, she explained how illustrating talks helped her retain information, focusing on the core concepts rather than minutiae. She generously shared some valuable tips for those aspiring to follow in her footsteps:

  • 1)     Organize your sketch space, decide where elements like titles, conclusions, and key ideas should be placed. Preparation is key, as space can fill up quickly.

  • 2)     Technology is not a prerequisite; a pen, pencil, and paper can be a great starting point.

  • 3)     If you prefer technology, consider using software like Autodesk SketchBook (free) or Procreate.

  • 4)     Familiarize yourself with the features and brushes of your chosen app.

  • 5)     Practice. Skills are honed over time through effort and dedication.

However, for those without the time, skills, or inclination for such artistry, consider hiring an illustrator for your next conference. It's important to acknowledge that while these artists may not come cheap, their work holds immense value. In an era where AI produces "art", we must not underestimate the genuine skill of condensing and presenting information in a visually curated manner. We should be willing to compensate those with artistic talents, ensuring that such skills don't become lost, or devalued, in the face of automation.

If you're working with a tight conference budget, I understand that this may not be your top priority. However, if you have some flexibility in your finances, take a moment to explore the pool of talented illustrators available. You may be pleasantly surprised by the options at your disposal. Posting a message on Twitter, or Facebook could yield enthusiastic responses from skilled illustrators.

In a recent conference on interdisciplinary IVF challenges,,  conducted with my colleague Dr Katerina Kaouri and funded by GW4,, we were fortunate to have some extra funds available. After evaluating our options, we decided to engage a local artist, Eleanor Beer (, as our conference illustrator.

Eleanor readily admitted she wasn't an IVF expert, but this was precisely the point. She focused on capturing the big ideas and overarching themes of the conference, not on mining details for her next research paper.

Eleanor Beer’s illustration of our recent “Interdisciplinary Challenges in IVF” conference.

Unsurprisingly, both the delegates and the organizing committee were thrilled with Eleanor's work. She provided us with a piece of art that we eagerly anticipate displaying in our department. It stands as a constant reminder of our funding success and the continuing scientific challenges that need to be addressed.

As we uncover the potential of incorporating illustrators into conferences, it becomes clear that their contributions have the power to revolutionize how we disseminate and absorb information. Their work transcends language barriers and kindles our scientific creativity. The benefits are substantial, and it is high time to recognize and embrace the visualization of conferences.

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Featured Figures

By Fiona Macfarlane

Early Career Feature - Chloé Colson, University of Oxford, UK

In this issue, we highlight research from Chloé Colson, a PhD student at the University of Oxford (UK) working with Philip Maini and Helen Byrne. We asked Chloé to tell us a little more about their paper `Investigating the Influence of Growth Arrest Mechanisms on Tumour Responses to Radiotherapy’:

Cancer is a heterogeneous disease, with tumours of the same type exhibiting large variation at the genotypic and phenotypic levels. These differences can have a significant influence on tumour sensitivity to treatment and, more generally, on patient prognosis. Improving our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning cancer is, therefore, essential for the development of effective patient-specific therapeutic protocols. In this paper, we aim to assess how two distinct mechanisms of growth control may affect tumour responses to radiotherapy (RT), an established cancer treatment used to treat more than 50% of cancer patients.

In previous work (Colson et al. 2022), we developed a novel ordinary differential equation model of solid tumour growth which distinguishes between growth arrest due to nutrient insufficiency, when cell proliferation and death rates balance, and due to contact inhibition, when the cell proliferation rate converges to zero, with no cell death. While it has been shown that both of these mechanisms can be simultaneously active in vitro in 2D monolayer and 3D spheroid assays (Helmlinger et al. 1997), most models of tumour growth only describe a single growth control mechanism. By considering both nutrient and space limited growth, our model exhibits three distinct regimes: nutrient limited (NL), space limited (SL) and bistable (BS), where both mechanisms of growth arrest coexist.

In the present work, we extend our tumour growth model to include time-dependent responses to RT and systematically study RT response in the three growth regimes introduced above. We construct three virtual populations of NL, SL and BS tumours, and, for each population, we initially consider tumour responses to a conventional fractionation schedule consisting of 5x2 Gy fractions per week for 8 weeks. We determine average responses and explore how values of key parameters (i.e., the tumour oxygen consumption rates (q1, q3) and the vascular volume) generate extreme (i.e., strongly positive and negative) behaviour. We find that tumour responses to RT are regime-dependent, with tumours in the SL cohort responding positively and tumours in the BS cohort responding poorly. We also identify the biological processes that may explain positive and negative treatment outcomes in each regime. For instance, as shown in the Figure, we find that increased RT efficacy for SL tumours may be due to limited tumour regrowth and/or RT cell kill. Finally, by studying the impact of the total dose and dosing frequency on tumour response, we elucidate how dosing strategies that maximise the reduction in tumour burden vary between regimes; higher doses applied at higher frequency are beneficial for SL tumours, whereas lower doses applied at lower frequency can be more effective for NL and BS tumours.

Subject to the validation of our findings with experimental data, we believe that our modelling framework has the potential to help guide patient-specific treatment protocol design and, thus, contribute to improving patient prognosis.

You can find out more about this interesting work here:

Most accessed article in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology in August 2023

The article entitled “Could Mathematics be the Key to Unlocking the Mysteries of Multiple Sclerosis?” was the most accessed article in the August edition of the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. This article was written by Georgia Weatherley, Robyn P. Araujo, Samantha J. Dando and Adrianne L. Jenner from the Queensland University of Technology.

In this paper, the authors review the existing mathematical efforts to understand multiple sclerosis (MS), a neuroimmunology disease affecting the brain and spine. The goal with this review was to highlight the opportunities for mathematicians to have major impact on MS, both in terms of diagnosis, prognosis and improving treatment design.

MS is a neurodegenerative disease where myelin, which surrounds and protects neurons in the brain and spine, is degraded by an overactive immune system. The loss of myelin causes a range of physical and cognitive impairments for which there is currently no cure. Existing mathematical models of MS, while limited in volume in comparison to diseases such as leukemia or malaria, are diverse and insightful. Modelling works range from non-spatial deterministic models (ODEs) to spatially deterministic models (PDEs) and spatially stochastic models (ABMs).

The authors summarise, to the best of their knowledge, all existing mathematical efforts to capture MS across the four major disease scales: population, systemic, CNS and molecular (cellular). As such, this review serves as a foundation for future modelling works in MS.

The modelling techniques developed by mathematical oncologists and immunologists are readily translatable to MS and could provide much needed answers to open problems in this complex, profoundly heterogeneous disease. This review is a call to arms for the mathematical biology community, complete with a list of open problems that could benefit from a mathematical approach.    

You can find out more about this interesting work here:

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