Friday, May 25, 2018
Education

Math may hold key to cancer cure, a Marshall Scholarship recipient believes

TAMPA — Statistics related to cancer can be grim.

But if Derek Park, a 23-year-old Marshall Scholar recipient who has spent the last year working in Moffitt Cancer Center's department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology has any say about it, they don't have to be.

In fact, statistics and mathematics may be the very tool to bring about unique solutions to a disease that has been thought of in terms of bleak numbers for centuries, he said.

Park, who was recently selected as one of 34 recipients of the scholarship, received his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 2013 in evolutionary biology, working for labs that asked "basic science" questions — things that dealt with gene sequencing and phylogenetics.

"I found it satisfying, but I wanted something that was more applied — something more germane to human disease and could have an impact on bettering people's lives," he said.

When he read about some of the cancer research coming out of Moffitt's Integrated Mathematical Oncology department, which has been featured in several publications including Newsweek and The Independent over the past year, he was intrigued.

Using math to model adaptive therapies to treat cancer patients sounded like a unique idea, he said.

"Cancer research, the way it's been traditionally done, has reached some plateaus," he said. "People are looking for new ways and solutions for looking at things. … We know that if a patient has XYZ, we know if they will respond or won't respond, but we don't know why. We're using these mathematical models to try to explain the why."

So Park emailed two of the lead researchers, Alexander Anderson and Robert Gatenby, and pitched a few ideas before deciding to move to Tampa, where he began working alongside the researchers in developing and testing models.

"Derek is a very special student indeed," Anderson said via email. "We are lucky he found IMO."

Moffitt, Park said, is unlike many of the labs he's worked with as part of academic institutions like Yale or even private labs.

Research at Moffitt, he said, goes through a "potent creative pipeline," where an idea can reach a tangible patient benefit very quickly.

When he and his colleagues develop a model, they can test it across the hall with wet lab researchers who can eventually test possible therapies on mice, and later in clinics. Park said the opportunity as a researcher to be able to interact directly with patients to see how particular therapies affect them is invaluable and one he will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

Park said he has been working closely with a breast oncologist, where oftentimes it's the patients' questions and concerns that shape the research. A patient, he said, may want to know if it's okay to delay chemotherapy to have a child.

"Is it dangerous?" he said. "Maybe for some women, but not other women. At this point, we really don't have that good of an idea and we're hoping we can use mathematical modeling with a lot of existing patient data that can shed some light onto those kinds of questions."

In October 2013, Park was informed he had been selected as a finalist for the Marshall Scholarship, offered to up to 40 students in the United States who have graduated within three years and received a 3.7 or higher GPA.

So he flew to Atlanta, where he faced a selection panel that asked pointed questions, asking him to defend his beliefs about why he believed mathematical modeling offered a unique approach to cancer research.

"Regardless of whether I won it or not, I was really glad to have gone through the process," Park said. "It really forces you to think about your life goals and how you want to go about approaching it."

Park will continue his doctoral studies in the field in Oxford University's department of zoology, starting in the fall. He plans to keep close ties to Moffitt, and Anderson will serve as one of his graduate advisers.

Mostly, Park said, it will be the patients he's met who remain undaunted that will continue to inspire him, such as one who asked if it was okay to run a triathlon while undergoing chemotherapy.

"You do see the tragedy, you do see suffering, but then you see when things work out — when a patient recovers or when a patient has their disease in remission. And that's really uplifting. It tells you as a researcher, you're on the right track."

Comments
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA — Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively’s Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

TAMPA — The company hired by the Hillsborough County School District to fill more than 170,000 substitute teaching shifts every year is defending its record, saying it works to get to the bottom of allegations against employees, treat them fairly and...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18