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School of Mathematical Sciences

PhD students win poster prize at Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Conference in Heidelberg.

Elisa Scanu and Magnus Haughey beat off stiff competition from all around the world to win best poster presentation at the 12th European Conference on Mathematical and Theoretical Biology in Heidelberg.


Elisa is in her third year of her PhD and Magnus has just successfully passed his viva (Congratulations, Magnus!). Both have been working under the supervision of Dr Weini Huang to explore how stochastic modelling can be used in cancer research.

We caught up with Elisa and Magnus to learn more about the conference, their research, and the impact it is having.

How did it feel winning the poster competition?
Elisa: It feels incredible! It is great that our project has been so appreciated and I am very proud that I had the opportunity to honour our university with this amazing award. I strongly believe that research is about sharing and, more than the prize itself, the visibility that our work is having is priceless. I hope it will open the way to some new collaborations, especially for applications of mathematics in medicine. 

Other than winning the poster competition, what was the highlight of the conference for you?
Magnus: ECMTB 2022 was a large conference, and so there were many fantastic presentations from big names in mathematical biology from around the world. Aside from winning the poster prize though, I would actually say the other poster sessions were the highlight for me. Poster sessions are a great way to learn about peoples’ research, more often from other PhD students, and the sessions at ECMTB were the best I have experienced at a conference so far. 

Can you explain briefly what your research is about? 
Elisa: The project that I am working on with Dr. Weini Huang and Dr. Benjamin Werner is about ecDNA, a genetic mutation whose proliferation in human cells could potentially be a driven event for cancer initiation and expansion. We are studying its dynamical patterns through different approaches, and recently we have become part of an amazing group of scientists from all around the world, called Team eDyNAmiC. Our aim is to investigate ecDNA in healthy and cancer cells both theoretically and clinically.

My research is focussed on exploring what we can learn about cancer growth using the spatial information contained within tumour tissue samples. I developed methods to analyse spatially resolved tumour cell sub-population boundaries and link the observed patterns of population mixing to the underlying tumour cell dynamics.

Q: Why is the research you’re doing so important?
Elisa: I deeply believe in the power of research, and I am confident that every single research project has an immeasurable value in its specific field. Our project certainly has the potential to make a big impact in the field of oncology and medicine, as understanding ecDNA evolutionary patterns and modeling its dynamics could have a big contribution in predicting and analysing cancer and helping in controlling its related treatment resistance.

Congratulations on finishing your PhD, Magnus. What’s next for you?
Thank you very much! I am beginning a postdoc position, staying at QMUL, but moving from the Maths department to Barts Cancer Institute. There I will be working with Dr. Benjamin Werner where I will develop theoretical descriptions of extracellular DNA dynamics in cancer - so moving in the direction of Elisa’s PhD research. Extracellular DNA are little fragments of DNA which break off from the main DNA molecules and persist within the cell. The genetic information contained within these fragments can dynamically alter the behaviour of the cell. These seem to be much more prevalent in cancer cells, compared to non-cancer cells, yet little is known about their role in cancer development. I’m very excited to begin this new project!

Posters from ECMTB 2022 are available to view online, including the winning posters by our PhD students. If you'd like to learn more about the research being carried out in Mathematical Biology and Oncology within the School of Mathematical Sciences, we recommend you visit the following profiles:

Dr Weini Huang 
Christo Morison
Elisa Scanu 
Iftikhar Ahmed
Magnus Haughey
Marius Moeller



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