UT-Austin, MD Anderson announce inaugural projects in cancer research

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Photo Credit: Emma George | Daily Texan Staff

On Oct. 19, UT announced five pilot projects in its collaboration with the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a UT System research and treatment center, to increase research on cancer treatment.

The projects will design new treatment and therapy for breast cancer patients, chemotherapy treatments for brain cancer patients, faster imaging for prostate cancer, personalizing proton therapy, and analyzing and treating tumor growth, according to the University’s press release

The UT Austin Texas Advanced Computing Center and the UT Austin Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences announced their partnerships with MD Anderson in June, aiming to merge cancer data with modeling techniques to develop new methods of tracking, testing and treating cancer. 

Dan Stanzione, executive director at the computing center, said humanity’s most challenging problems require interdisciplinary approaches. 

"We are bringing together a world-class cancer research facility in MD Anderson, a world-class institute in applied mathematics, computational methods and algorithms in the Oden Institute, and world-class computers and expertise at (the computing center)," Stanzione said in an email. "If we want to make the fastest progress possible on cancer treatment, this kind of interdisciplinary approach gives us our best chance to succeed."

Tom Yankeelov, director of the Center for Computational Oncology at the Oden Institute, said both MD Anderson and the Oden Institute will pool $50,000 in funding for each project, and the computing center will provide 12,500 hours of computing time for mathematical models and research.

Caleb Phillips, a postdoctoral student at the Oden Institute, works on computational simulations of blood vessels responding to tumor growth. He said while each project's goals appear independent, they are all closely related to each other. 

"(The teams) have lots of meetings to discuss new ideas, new methodologies," Phillips said. "They are different systems, and the cancer does behave differently, but (for) a lot of the large-scale simulations that (they're) writing and developing, the methodology is very similar."

Phillips said each of the projects build the foundations for all following research related to these subjects. 

"If you succeed, you really open the door for other people to build on your progress," Phillips said. "Even to use your work that you've done to make more discoveries and impact in the clinical setting."

To highlight the projects, the University will host a virtual retreat on Oct. 29. The retreat will include talks from project leads, UT System Chancellor James Milliken and Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"This virtual symposium is a kick-off to highlight these five pilot projects, receive insights about state and national research and innovation priorities … and to hear how advancing mathematical modeling and computing methods can transform oncology," Yankeelov said.

The collaboration has two years of funding, but there are hopes to continue a more permanent relationship between the institutions, he said.

"We hope to be successful in this preliminary phase and extend it to a permanent arrangement. As of now, all signs are indicating that is a very reasonable goal," Yankeelov said.