Mathematics, medically speaking

Jennifer Flegg – Mathematician

Jennifer Flegg applies mathematics to real life problems. Recently returned from a postdoc at Oxford, Jen has joined a strike team in the mathematics department. Known as “MAXIMA”, mathematicians search for collaborators across disciplines, seeking opportunities to pair their capacity to problem-solve with a range of unexpected challenges.

Mathematics is usually considered an exact science – but sometimes human health issues can be messy and may benefit from a creative mathematical approach that can, in fact, offer an inexact solution.

So the recent arrival in Melbourne of someone like Jennifer Flegg is cause for celebration. Jen is able to use mathematical modelling to predict real life situations. She can, for example, look at historical data to predict current and future trends of malaria drug-resistance in South East Asia – a growing problem requiring accurate forward planning to protect lives.

“I work with clinicians and biologists who are so skilled in public health – it’s very rewarding contributing to this sort of teamwork. They think really differently to me and I can sometimes offer ideas they wouldn’t have had.”

A discovery project is also providing exciting results. It involves tumour cells growing in a micro-environment, ready to be exposed to combinations of novel drugs in the lab. “My work is tightly linked to experiments so, as I provide modelling, it informs experiments that then allow me to do further modelling. It’s cheaper and faster to work on an in silico model than testing on animals or humans and no ethical approval is required.”

One of her greatest passions is teaching mathematics to undergraduates.

“I share my love of mathematics and try to convey how rewarding it can be to use mathematical techniques to help make a difference to in the world, offering new approaches for public health.”

“I work with clinicians and biologists who are so skilled in public health – it’s very rewarding contributing to this sort of teamwork. They think really differently to me and I can sometimes offer ideas they wouldn’t have had.”