The Last Frontier of Mathematics

Thursday, January 21, 2021

“Math and medicine are like the two solitudes,” reflected Professor Siv Sivaloganathan, chair of the Department of Applied Mathematics. “They represent two separate cultures and ways of thinking.” When the two combine into mathematical medicine, the results are nothing short of astonishing.

Several years after joining the Department of Applied Mathematics in 1994, Sivaloganathan collaborated with the chief neurosurgeon at Sick Kids Foundation to identify the best placement for a shunt in children with hydrocephalus. By dissecting the mathematical underpinnings of the existing literature on hydrocephalus, Sivaloganathan was able to construct more effective mathematical models to inform clinical treatment.

Not long after that, the chief medical oncologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre called upon to Sivaloganathan to develop a mathematical model to determine the most effective sequencing of therapies for ovarian cancer. “My work has sort of mushroomed from that point,” he remembered. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that mathematical  medicine and biology has taken centre stage as one of the central disciplines of modern applied mathematics.”

This year, Sivaloganathan is focusing most of his research on high-intensity ultrasound waves, which have the potential to eliminate tumours and other harmful tissues with fewer side effects than other therapies. “I’ve always said that Waterloo is a place where people think completely outside of the box,” he reflected. “We are encouraged to pursue ideas that will have a direct impact on the quality of life for Canadians 10 years down the line. In many ways, Waterloo is the reason that mathematical medicine has become a ‘bona fide’ discipline and gained such significant traction in Canada.”

Read Sivaloganathan's story.