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For his senior honors thesis, Andrew Colton ’02 (Hicksville, N.Y.) is studying how to mathematically model the interaction between tumor and immune system cells.

“The primary objective is to start from scratch and evaluate how well a streamlined model can serve as a predictive tool for cancer treatment research,” explains Colton. “The model will help us determine if immune system boosters can enhance the body’s reaction to the presence of cancerous tissue, thus inhibiting the growth of tumors.”

Colton is undertaking the yearlong study in pursuit of departmental honors in mathematics.

“The project appeals to me in a general sense because I see it as the capstone to my undergraduate education at Lafayette,” says Colton. “The recursive process of research and writing requires the application of various skills I’ve attained over the past three years. In particular, the modeling project gives me the opportunity to explore how mathematics can help simulate, and ultimately solve, complex problems. It’s also interesting to simultaneously discover my latent interest in biology.”

Robert Kurt, assistant professor of biology, is providing Colton with experimental data to use for his model. Kurt conducts immunological research.

“Using some experimental data and modeling techniques, we can evaluate the growth rate of tumor cells and T-cells, which are constant values used throughout the model,” says Colton. “I’ll use the model to predict the outcome of tumor growth in a host and then quantitatively illustrate what number of immune cells or T-cells are acceptable in the body. I’m learning about this immunotherapy as I go along.”

Colton says that essentially, he’d like the model to show and predict the number of immune system cells that can increase the chances of suppressing the cancer in a certain time frame. He’s doing the basic equations by hand and then using computer software to plot points and find curves.

Colton’s thesis advisor is Art Gorman, associate professor of mathematics.

“We’re looking at a very simple model that we hope can provide some information to people like Bob Kurt,” says Gorman. “Mathematicians like to do things completely and so we’ll develop an equation to describe what is a very complicated process. We’ll try to include all the various mechanisms going on in order to determine its validity for the range of conditions that we’re considering.”

Gorman says this thesis fits well into Colton’s undergraduate work because he is combining the techniques he learned in lower leveling modeling courses with several large case studies from his upper level courses.

Colton says that he’s very excited to be working with Gorman, who is also his academic adviser. “He introduced me to the project and supplements my progress with his extensive math modeling experience,” says Colton. “His interest is matching mine.”

“Lafayette provides an academic environment that favors students with ambition and interest in carrying out research and independent projects,” says Colton. “All the resources are in place, including enthusiastic faculty and up-to-date technology.”

Colton has conducted research as an EXCEL Scholar and has been a member of the Technology Clinic, an upper-level course in which students from different majors partner for a year to apply what they’ve learned to solve real-life problems. He is a Writing Associate and a McKelvy Scholar. During the past two summers, he did internships with American International Group and Hartford Life and is pursuing a career as an actuary.

Categorized in: Academic News