Finding ones reason to continue through research in mathematics is a difficult and personal question to ask. My purpose comes from a family history of Melanoma, and the research I’m most interested in involves the treatment of such conditions. It’s not what I chose to study for that reason, but rather the interest I had in that specific area. Over time, it all just clicks

Finding a purpose or a deeper reason to undertake mathematical research is so tricky. As someone who has undertaken several small research projects over my mathematics degree, there always appears to be an underlying theme across them. Cancer – more specifically Melanoma. These projects have all primarily focused on one key element, how to treat it more effectively. I have wondered why I keep coming back to this topic and why I always get so excited to make some breakthrough or conclusion in what a seemingly small part of a much larger issue.

I have a massive family history of skin cancer, and it is something I too have be hyper aware of as I get older. In my final year of high school, I went back to NZ to visit my grandfather for what could have been the final time. He was a dairy farmer and had more than his fair share of skin cancers throughout his life, his current condition was a melanoma that had metastasised to nearly his whole body by the time I visited. He passed away while we were visiting, and I missed my year 12 exams because of it. He had played such a massive part in my life, providing me with opportunities I would never have had without him.

Even more recently my mum had a scare with a skin cancer of her own. Problem is, this wasn’t her first bout either. From memory it was number 4, it was also number 4 that began my grandfather’s decline. It was a stressful few weeks while we waited for its removal and margins, all clear. The thought always lingered of “What if its not, then what?”.

Being someone so close as my mum really made this purpose click. I want to research what we can do to help people in situations where other treatments such as excisions or chemotherapy fail. In this case, solid tumours like melanoma are ideal targets for oncolytic virotherapy. There are so many new modifications and additional treatments such as BiTEs (another project I worked on) that can greatly improve the effectiveness of treatment. Utilising mathematical models and concepts I’ve learnt through my mathematics degree in combination with my physiological knowledge from my medical engineering degree, I see a perfect opportunity for me to contribute to something in a meaningful way. In future I hope to continue the project I have begun through the AMSI VRS program as it is such an important area of research.  This is my motivation.

Mikaela Westlake
Queensland University of Technology

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