New Research Project: Mathematical Oncology in Heidelberg

9. December 2021

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Heidelberg is working together to develop mathematical modeling to help decipher tumor development in hereditary colorectal cancer. The research project includes mathematicians and tumor biologists from the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS), Heidelberg University, Heidelberg University Hospital and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). The project is funded by the Klaus Tschira Foundation. The aim of the collaborative project is to understand tumor initiation, evolution, and immunology by means of mathematical modeling and thereby find approaches to potentially prevent hereditary cancer in the future.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and has become increasingly prevalent in younger generations in recent years. A substantial proportion of colorectal tumors in young patients are hereditary, with Lynch syndrome being the most common hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome. Lynch syndrome carriers have an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as malignancies in other organs. Therefore, the development of effective preventive measures is a highly relevant topic in modern medicine.

Cancer development is a complex process that can be influenced by numerous factors. In addition, investigations are usually performed on tumors that have already developed, but these represent only a snapshot of the overall developmental process. So far, only a few conclusions can be drawn about the individual steps in this development process and their sequence.

The research team will now combine mathematical modeling and medical data to track the cancer formation processes before they are visible in medical examinations. Therefore, a decisive factor in this research work is the close interdisciplinary exchange between mathematics and medicine, for which Heidelberg offers the perfect research environment. By developing a common language between medicine and mathematics, medical hypotheses can be translated into mathematical equations. This translation work will be the core of the upcoming interdisciplinary collaboration.

The Heidelberg project entitled “Mathematics in Oncology” is a pilot initiative to strengthen interdisciplinary translational research. Through the three-year funding, the Klaus Tschira Foundation is supporting an interdisciplinary project that enables new synergies between mathematics and medicine and strengthens the innovative research profile of Heidelberg as a center of science.

About HITS

The Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) was established in 2010 by the physicist and SAP co-founder Klaus Tschira (1940-2015) and the Klaus Tschira Foundation as a private, non-profit research institute. HITS conducts basic research in the natural sciences, mathematics and computer science, with a focus on the processing, structuring, and analyzing of large amounts of complex data and the development of computational methods and software. The research fields range from molecular biology to astrophysics. The shareholders of HITS are the HITS-Stiftung, which is a subsidiary of the Klaus Tschira Foundation, Heidelberg University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). HITS also cooperates with other universities and research institutes and with industrial partners. The base funding of HITS is provided by the HITS Stiftung with funds received from the Klaus Tschira Foundation. The primary external funding agencies are the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the European Union.

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