2020 recap

A year in review

Written by David Basanta - December 28, 2020
A lot has happened this year. Often, one can arrive at the end of the year with a feeling that it had been, on balance, a good year... or maybe a bad one, perhaps quite likely: a mixed one. But 2020 is rather unique in that it has been, also on balance, not good … on a global scale. With millions dead, hundreds of millions infected and billions of people impacted by COVID-19 in one shape or another, 2020 has taken a toll on us. That is not to say that we have all paid the same price. If you are reading this post there is a good chance (but no certainty!) that you found a way to continue working, doing research and teaching while working from home. Andrea Hawkins-Daarud told us, back in August, how she and her colleagues managed to use their experience coordinating from remote locations to continue their work during the lockdown.

As well as disrupting teaching and our ability to work with our colleagues (although Santiago Schnell had this nice post on the 2019 meeting to celebrate Philip Maini's 60th birthday), 2020 is the year where conferences went virtual. Events like eSMB demonstrated both the limitations of online meetings but also the resourcefulness of conference organizers and participants to still discuss and exchange scientific ideas. Unfortunately some events, such as the Integrated Mathematical Oncology workshop are too hands-on for anybody to replicate the experience online. Sandy Anderson described the aims and history of the workshop in this post when it was still conceivable that things would be back to some normalcy before the end of the year. We certainly hope he will be able to have the next one this coming autumn of 2021.

2020 was also the year when the Black Lives Matter movement came back to the public consciousness in the US and beyond. Academia started confronting the realization that systemic racism is no stranger in our universities and research centers. Stacey Finley wrote this incisive post about the history of racism against black people in the US and her own personal experience as well as some suggestions of what we can do about it. Much needs to be done and I hope to see more people contributing with ideas and describing efforts on how to promote diversity and representation in our workplaces.

Whatever your balance for 2020 might be, there were some beautiful moments too. For instance, Thomas Hillen described in this post how our models might always be wrong and maybe sometimes useful but also, often beautiful. Even in ways that non-mathematicians could recognize. With regards to use, Morgan Craig, Dan Nichol and Nara Yoon told us how to use mathematical models to understand intra tumor heterogeneity and somatic evolution and use them to treat cancer using evolutionary-enlightened treatments such as adaptive therapies. Regarding the latter, mathematical thinking brought us said adaptive therapies but also some considerations worth keeping in mind when bringing them to the clinic, courtesy of Hitesh Mistry. In general, mathematical models that want to have a direct impact in the clinic need to be very carefully constructed as Renee Brady-Nicholls argues here.

It is important to remember that mathematical and computational models of cancer do not need to be made into clinical tools to be useful. Mathematical models allow us to think about complex problems in biology in ways that pure data-generating approaches do not. They help us not only answer questions but sharpen them. They also help us gather different hypotheses and data and integrate them into coherent models. So look out for posts like this from Noemi Andor or even this one from yours truly to explore how our models can help us shed new light on the biology of cancer. And then look at this post by Louis Joslyn so you can add your models to a new repository.

Finally, I ended last year's recap post expressing my optimism about the future of this blog, provided that you, the mathonco community would keep contributing... with ideas, concepts, papers, conferences, critiques. This continues to be true in 2021 so please, reach out to me or Jeffrey with your ideas and suggestions: we want to hear from you and the math and componco community wants to hear from you.
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