Steering Cancer Evolution with Global Collaboration

By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - October 30, 2023

Each fall, mathematicians, researchers and clinicians from around the globe gather at Moffitt Cancer Center for its annual Integrated Mathematical Oncology Workshop. The weeklong workshop, now in its 11th year, is designed to motivate participants from diverse scientific and clinical backgrounds to work together to find innovative solutions for some of cancer’s most complex therapeutic challenges.

Graphic for the IMO Workshop 11
The artwork for the workshop each year tries to visually capture the theme of the workshop. With the focus on extinction, the idea of a comet crashing into a growing tumor and its blood supply causing damage to the tumor and its surrounding environment made some sense.

Dr. Sandy Anderson, chair of Moffitt’s Integrated Mathematical Oncology Department and co-director of the Center of Excellence for Evolutionary Therapy, says it’s all about collaboration. Pairing a mathematician who can model cancer in unique ways with an experimentalist who can test model predictions and a clinician who can ground these ideas in practical reality can provide new insight on understanding drug resistance, cancer metastasis and more.

“Brainstorming is key tool we use during these workshops. It’s all about trying to solve a problem collectively, maximizing your knowledge through a diverse team and riffing off each other in terms of ideas that try to take small steps toward a complex solution or even to get an idea of how to approach a solution,” Anderson said.

image of people gathering in a room for a presentation to start the IMO Workshop
Dr. Sandy Anderson welcomes participants to the 11th annual IMO Workshop.

The workshop is an immersive experience that blends education, competition and innovation. Each year, a new theme is selected to help drive projects. This year’s focus is on developing novel therapeutic strategies across many cancers, with the goal of steering the cancer’s evolution toward extinction or control.  More information on this workshop and those from the last decade can be found at imoworkshop.org.  

Workshop participants are divided into multiple teams, each comprised of clinical, experimental and theoretical members. This interdisciplinary approach ensures there is a wide range of expertise to address the specific cancer question they are working to answer.

image of workshop participants sitting at tables talking to one another
IMO workshop participants engage in a "speed dating" session to get to know one another.

The teams spend the next four and half days working to conceptualize and formulate models using mathematical and evolutionary principles to drive their novel therapeutic approaches. Some groups end up working well into the night and early morning hours to accomplish their goal. At the end of an intense week, each group presents their projects to a panel of independent judges, that includes a patient advocate, who award the winning team and the runner up $50,000 grants to continue their research after the workshop ends.

"One of the main reasons we have these workshops, is because I wanted to teach a new generation of scientists about the potential of using mathematics to understand cancer. Whilst it’s a lot of work it’s also a lot of fun and has led to many lasting collaborations across the world,” Anderson said.

This year, 40 people from outside of Moffitt are participating in the workshop. Twenty-five of those are from other countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.  This year's workshop runs Oct. 29 to Nov. 3. You can follow the teams in real time on X, formerly known as Twitter, by following the hashtag #MoffittIMO, and @MoffittNews and @ara_anderson accounts.

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Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC Senior PR Account Coordinator 813-456-3342 More Articles

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