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  • Linke Potgieter


Mathematical Biology Modelling days in Besancon...{MB}²conference, 19-22 June 2018. I've never been in Besancon, I did not know anyone going to or organising this conference, I'm travelling on my own, but...I do research in mathematical biology, I do like France, the dates suited me perfectly, and this year was my year of trying out small conferences, heading away from the typical overwhelming IFORS or EURO options that many operations researchers opt for.

What I found was this - smaller means less options and restricted topic choice with only one or two streams, but greater in opportunity for discussing your research and networking. Unlike large conferences, everyone attends most presentations and you are basically forced to talk to strangers during lunch time.

The main objective of the conference was to bring together researchers from two communities, mathematics and biology, in order to share reflections on contemporary and emerging research on

mathematical modelling in different fields of biology and life sciences. It is one of the events forming part of the year of Mathematical Biology 2018, a joint venture of the European Mathematical Society (EMS) and the European Society for Mathematical and Theoretical Biology (ESMTB). The sessions covered the following topics: Epidemiology, Ecosystem structure and dynamics, Ecotoxicology, Oncology, Cellular heterogeneity and dynamics, Food webs and interactions between species, Fluid flow in biology, Genome evolution.

I found the Oncology sessions very interesting. In one presentation it was stated that some cancers should perhaps rather be treated as a chronic disease rather than trying to cure it and kill all cancer cells. The hypothesis applied to cancer cells states that what doesn't kill me makes me stronger , so if you opt for a less severe dose over a long term (chronic treatment), you may reduce this effect on cancer cells, and survival and quality of life may actually increase. Modelling experiments demonstrate this hypothesis beautifully. Another comment made by one of the researchers around lunch time frustrated the researcher in me - that unpublished knowledge and published results from the mathematical modelling of cancer are much further ahead than what is actually implemented in practice by doctors. This is partly due to restricted large scale clinical trials (as a result of limited funding) required for a doctor to make it part of protocol and standard practice. I guess that is kind of the sad reality of most research...

My presentation was part of the Ecosystem structure and dynamics theme. I presented our mathematical and agent-based simulation research on sterile insect releases and refugia planning, and received useful comments here and there. My co-worker DJ Human also presented the same topic at the EURO conference a bit later in July.

Will I recommend going to smaller conferences? Yes, definitely.

Will I visit Besancon again? Not necessarily. It was nice to see though.

Will I visit France again? I hope so!

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