Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar

Please note that the list below only shows forthcoming events, which may not include regular events that have not yet been entered for the forthcoming term. Please see the past events page for a list of all seminar series that the department has on offer.

Past events in this series
15 February 2019
14:00
Abstract

There is great interest in the molecular characterisation of intestinal metaplasia, such as Barrett’s esophagus (BE), to understand the basic biology of metaplastic development from a tissue of origin. BE is asymptomatic, so it is not generally known how long a patient has lived with this precursor of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) when initially diagnosed in the clinic. We previously constructed a BE clock model using patient-specific methylation data to estimate BE onset times using Bayesian inference techniques, and thus obtain the biological age of BE tissue (Curtius et al. 2016). We find such epigenetic drift to be widely evident in BE tissue (Luebeck et al. 2017) and the corresponding tissue ages show large inter-individual heterogeneity in two patient populations.               

From a basic biological mechanism standpoint, it is not fully understood how the Barrett’s tissue first forms in the human esophagus because this process is never observed in vivo, yet such information is critical to inform biomarkers of risk based on temporal features (e.g., growth rates, tissue age) reflecting the evolution toward cancer. We analysed multi-region samples from 17 BE patients to

1) measure the spatial heterogeneity in biological tissue ages, and 2) use these ages to calibrate mathematical models (agent-based and continuum) of the mechanisms for formation of the segment itself. Most importantly, we found that tissue must be regenerated nearer to the stomach, perhaps driven by wound healing caused by exposure to reflux, implying a gastric tissue of origin for the lesions observed in BE. Combining bioinformatics and mechanistic modelling allowed us to infer evolutionary processes that cannot be clinically observed and we believe there is great translational promise to develop such hybrid methods to better understand multiscale cancer data.

References:

Curtius K, Wong C, Hazelton WD, Kaz AM, Chak A, et al. (2016) A Molecular Clock Infers Heterogeneous Tissue Age Among Patients with Barrett's Esophagus. PLoS Comput Biol 12(5): e1004919

Luebeck EG, Curtius K, Hazelton WD, Made S, Yu M, et al. (2017) Identification of a key role of epigenetic drift in Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. J Clin Epigenet 9:113

  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
22 February 2019
14:00
Abstract

Computational nucleic acid devices show great potential for enabling a broad range of biotechnology applications, including smart probes for molecular biology research, in vitro assembly of complex compounds, high-precision in vitro disease diagnosis and, ultimately, computational therapeutics inside living cells. This diversity of applications is supported by a range of implementation strategies, including nucleic acid strand displacement, localisation to substrates, and the use of enzymes with polymerase, nickase and exonuclease functionality. However, existing computational design tools are unable to account for these different strategies in a unified manner. This talk presents a programming language that allows a broad range of computational nucleic acid systems to be designed and analysed. We also demonstrate how similar approaches can be incorporated into a programming language for designing genetic devices that are inserted into cells to reprogram their behaviour. The language is used to characterise the genetic components for programming populations of cells that communicate and self-organise into spatial patterns. More generally, we anticipate that languages and software for programming molecular and genetic devices will accelerate the development of future biotechnology applications.

  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
8 March 2019
14:00
Abstract

The mechanisms underlying the initiation and perpetuation of cardiac arrhythmias are inherently multi-scale: whereas arrhythmias are intrinsically tissue-level phenomena, they have a significant dependence cellular electrophysiological factors. Spontaneous sub-cellular calcium release events (SCRE), such as calcium waves, are a exemplars of the multi-scale nature of cardiac arrhythmias: stochastic dynamics at the nanometre-scale can influence tissue excitation  patterns at the centimetre scale, as triggered action potentials may elicit focal excitations. This latter mechanism has been long proposed to underlie, in particular, the initiation of rapid arrhythmias such as tachycardia and fibrillation, yet systematic analysis of this mechanism has yet to be fully explored. Moreover, potential bi-directional coupling has been seldom explored even in concept.

A major challenge of dissecting the role and importance of SCRE in cardiac arrhythmias is that of simultaneously exploring sub-cellular and tissue function experimentally. Computational modelling provides a potential approach to perform such analysis, but requires new techniques to be employed to practically simulate sub-cellular stochastic events in tissue-scale models comprising thousands or millions of coupled cells.

This presentation will outline the novel techniques developed to achieve this aim, and explore preliminary studies investigating the mechanisms and importance of SCRE in tissue-scale arrhythmia: How do independent, small-scale sub-cellular events overcome electrotonic load and manifest as a focal excitation? How can SCRE focal (and non-focal) dynamics lead to re-entrant excitation? How does long-term re-entrant excitation interact with SCRE to perpetuate and degenerate arrhythmia?

  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
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