The math behind…

July 26, 2017

Posted: February 1, 2017, 10:30am

Last week I happened across a cool subsection of the SIAM website called Math Matters. SIAM is the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, which has a professional organization and a journal which I’ve published some of previous research in cancer. The Math Matters is a monthly publication designed to pique interest in the daily applications of math that we might not readily consider. For example, there is an interesting article about the math behind catching fish. On the more advanced side, there’s an article detailing the math behind quorum sensing(whatever that is…)

Naturally, I decided to submit an article too. My thinking was two-fold. First, there is a prize for writing an article that is eventually accepted — might as well! Second, it’s a natural place to publicize the research I’ve already done. It’s fun to broaden the scope of the research we do, which is often quite detailed and subject to minutia. This Math Matters publication is likely read by a wider audience, including non-scientists, or scientists from other fields.

My submission involved explaining my game theory model of cancer along with some more general uses of the prisoner’s dilemma game used in my model. Here’s a teaser from the article:

You might think it’s strange to think of cancer as a “game,” but in fact it’s certainly one of the most serious games that your body’s cells will ever play. Our current scientific understanding is that cancer is an evolutionary disease: populations of healthy cells and cancer cells compete according to the biological principles of natural selection, aided by heritable mutations in the genetic makeup of the cell, which influence each cell’s role in the competition. These simple biological processes are best explained by a math model called evolutionary dynamics, or game theory. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the fascinating history behind the Prisoner’s Dilemma, I highly recommend checking out a book by Robert Axelrod called Evolution of Cooperation. The Prisoner’s Dilemma game has been used to describe a wide array of diverse applications in the world: cooperative behavior in animals, behavioral economics on the global stage, allocating finances in advertising, and now in cancer research!

Published on July 26th, 2017

Last updated on August 10th, 2017