AUB’s fifth Biomedical Engineering Winter School spurs new research and collaboration on mathematical biology

​​​​Safa Jafari Safa <ss152@aub.edu.lb> Office of Communications​​​​​

A total of 250 students participated in AUB’s fifth Biomedical Engineering Winter School this year. Graduate, undergraduate, and high school students from various regions in Lebanon were keen to join AUB’s annual program to explore various disciplines and further research possibilities. With a focus on mathematical biology and computational physiology disciplines this year, the two-day biomedical engineering event featured international distinguished speakers who highlighted the importance of mathematical and computational modeling in biomedical research at the molecular and physiological levels.  

The Biomedical Engineering Winter School is offered by the Biomedic​al Engineering (BMEN) program―a joint program of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture and Faculty of Medicine​―in collaboration ​with the Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences (CAMS) and with the support of the AUB Biomedical Engineering Student Society (AUB-BMESS). It is one of the most exciting interdisciplinary growth fields at the boundary between engineering and science, bringing together distinguished professors from top-tier universities to share their research in a broad range of specialties within biomedical engineering.

The goal behind winter school this year was to spread awareness on the usage of mathematics in biology and the various ways in which the two fields correlate, particularly in areas such as neuroscience, biochemical signaling, and evolutionary biology. Researchers in those fields were invited to speak at the event. 

The lectures by Professors Rutger Hermsen (Utrecht University), Christian Hansel (University of Chicago), Abdul Jarrah (American University of Sharjah), and Bard Ermentrout (University of Pittsburgh) each covered basics and fundamentals, as well as state-of-the-art research findings and open research directions.​ The recent unprecedented progress in mathematical biology has come with the staggering amount of data being collected in biological labs which require mathematical/statistical tools to analyze and infer knowledge from them. 

“‘How useful is mathematical biology?’ is a question with two parts: Does mathematics advance biology and does biology inspire new mathematics?” said Dr. Arij Daou​, assistant professor of biomedical engineering​. “In my field of neuroscience, I find it to be both ways as there exists a beautiful marriage between neuroscience and mathematics. Our speakers also were keen about showing this connection. Nowadays, there is a strong emphasis from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on showing mathematical/computational foundations for the various research projects, a fact that affects the degree of success in securing funds. This focus on data science and mathematical modeling to answer biological questions is becoming more prevalent in universities abroad and it’s important for us researchers in biological sciences at AUB to follow a similar track.”

Dr. Jihad Touma, AUB CAMS director,​ who comes from a dynamical systems analysis background in physics and understands the significance of these mathematical tools in answering biological problems, also ran a “mathematical biology panel.”

A graduate research presentation session was held on the second day, where graduate students presented 17 posters to the speakers as panelists. The research topics ranged over various disciplines in neuroscience, tissue engineering, and computational mathematics. Winner of the poster award was PhD student Zeina Habli with a poster entitled “Biomimetic Sulfated GAGs Maintain Differentiation Markers of Breast Epithelial Cells and Preferentially Inhibit Proliferation of Cancer Cells.” AUB researchers were able to discuss the junction of biology and mathematics with the speakers through an intellectual panel that inspires opportunities for collaboration in the near future.