Entering the Mathematical Neuro-Oncology lab on Mayo Clinic’s location in Scottsdale, Arizona, is like walking onto the bridge of a ship in some fictional universe. There's a definite "Star Trek" vibe.
"Yes, 'Star Trek' is good," laughs Kristin Swanson, Ph.D., a mathematical oncologist at Mayo Clinic, "but I like 'Big Bang Theory.' I kind of joke that that's what my lab feels like." Geeky or not, she and her team use math to study glioblastoma, a type of cancer that starts in the glial cells of the brain and spine. Normally, these cells support and protect neurons, but when they become cancerous, they divide without stopping, forming tumors that insinuate themselves into the brain. About 80% of malignant brain tumors are gliomas.
"It's what John McCain passed away from, and Teddy Kennedy and Beau Biden," she says. "It's a particularly aggressive tumor that has a median survival of about 14 months. And that rate has barely moved over the last 50 years. It's just an unbelievably challenging disease."
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