By Tamara Tambyah, Queensland University of Technology

The application of mathematics in modelling biological scenarios has always been an interest of mine. When I was offered the opportunity to model the behaviour of melanoma cells, I jumped at the chance! Experimentalists observe how melanoma cells move and proliferate by conducting a scratch assay experiment. These sorts of experiments are mainly used to study tumour growth and wound healing. There are several mathematical models which describe a typical scratch assay experiment.

A new technology, FUCCI, was recently developed which allows experimentalists to observe the age of melanoma cells on a scratch assay as different colours. As this technology is brand new, there exists limited mathematical models to simulate experiments conducted with FUCCI. I developed a lattice-based, random walk model which described cell migration, proliferation and the age of melanoma cells in a scratch assay experiment.

The most exciting part about this project was that I was one of the first mathematicians to develop a mathematical model to describe experiments using FUCCI. I have taken several simulation and modelling subjects, as well as programming subjects, over the course of my mathematics degree. This research project was a great opportunity for me to apply my modelling and programming skills to successfully develop a real world, biological model. The model that I developed is an accurate, yet simple and easily adaptable tool, that experimentalists can use to model melanoma cell behaviour.

After six weeks of research, I presented my findings at AMSI Connect in Melbourne. This was a great opportunity for me to present my research to people who will one day be my peers and research colleagues. It also gave me the chance to hear about lots of different areas of mathematics, mainly pure mathematics, that I have never studied before. I gained invaluable research, collaboration and communication skills through my summer research project which I will be able to apply in future research projects.

Tamara Tambyah was one of the recipients of a 2017/18 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.

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