Looking back at 2019

Looking forward 2020

Written by David Basanta - December 29, 2019
This blog has been going on for a little bit over 5 months, not even half a year. But the year (nay, the decade!) is coming to and end, and this looks too good an opportunity to not look back at what we got going in these few months since we started.

We started this as an experiment for the mathematical and computational oncology community: as scientists we are used to discussing ideas on scientific papers, conference presentations and, more recently, pre-prints or even social media in the shape of twitter (where #mathonco allows us to follow, at least some of the community news and developments). In theory, all this affords us plenty of room to discuss ideas, views, theories, results and their application to cancer. In practice that is not so. The gap between the time research is completed and a paper is published can span months, and often years. While this is helped by biorxiv (www.biorxiv.org), the fact is that not all publishable work is suitable for biorxiv (such as reviews) and even when that is not an issue, a lot of research outputs are not suitable for the format of a conventional paper. You can read some of those reasons in our inaugural post.

We started this platform without a fixed idea of the types of content we would have. We knew that we wanted a place for the community to discuss ideas and we got contributions like that from Rasmus Kristoffer Pedersen who challenged us to take a closer look at the role of computer simulations ("Building Interactive Simulations") to develop an intuition of our mathematical oncology problem before (or maybe at the same time) launching into more rigorous analysis (whenever that is an option). Check out his interactive simulations, another clear advantage of web-based communication! Thomas Hillen railed against the dogma of the golden bullet against cancer ("The colors of cancer") and how targeted therapies are not going to become ‘the cure’ for any cancer that is heterogeneous. If one thinks about tumor cell diversity as colors then the best approach is not to pick the best color but the best rainbow-drug, one that is patient-specific.

We also have had tools announced or tutorialized such as evofreq (thanks Jeff West for the post and Chandler Gatenbee for the tool), an R library to visualize evolutionary and population dynamics ("EvoFreq+HAL") or EVE (EVolutionary biorEactor), an opensource automated culture device to study evolution (thanks to Vishhvaan Gopalakrishnan for the post on "EVE").

This blog has also been a place to communicate ideas and conversations from a conference beyond those able or willing to attend the meeting. As an example, Alex May described to us some of the highlights of the biannual meeting from ISEEC (International Society for Evolution, Ecology and Cancer). This is a win-win as both ISEEC presenters can benefit from the ideas reaching people well beyond the meeting and everybody else gets to have, at least, a taste of what they missed.

Announcements came such as this post ("Math Oncology takes root at USC") from Stanley Finley where she tells us about a new and exciting center for computational modeling of cancer at the University of Southern California.

We of course had a few posts where authors syntethised and gave us a more personal view of the results or interesting tools used in their recently released papers (published or pre-printed). So if you want to show us some of the highlights from your latest work, you can do as Elana Fertig ("Quantifying Tumor Heterogeneity"), Jeffrey West ("Space Accelerates Evolution"), James DeGregory and Niles Eldredge ("Malignant Threats") or Youness Azimzade ("Short Range Migration"). If you want to talk about a project that you are going to be working on thanks to certain funding, do let us know as Jacob Scott did here, describing the research that the NCI is now funding in his recently awarded R01. Certainly a cool project combining experimental work (Andriy Marusyk) and evolutionary game theory (Jacob himself).

And, do we think our contributors stop at pre and post-published research? Former SMB (www.smb.org) president Fred Adler revisits a paper from our colleagues at Moffitt from a couple of years ago ("All Pithy Maxims are Wrong... Some are Useful") to discuss what he likes but also to start a conversation about what he thinks are the limitations of their mathematical model aiming to explain a successful clinical trial in metastatic prostate cancer patients at Moffitt.

I believe we had a bit of everything in the less than half a year we got this community blog going and I am optimistic about the future, but that rests on the willingness of the community to make that happen (so yes, that means you). If you guys keep contributing with your views and news then there is a good chance we can make this a place for us to debate ideas, so please keep them coming!
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