Liggins Institute


Mathematical modelling

Mathematical and economic models are being used to predict how events that occur early in life impact on long-term health to demonstrate the economic, health and social benefits that would be achieved through interventions at the beginning of the life course.

Overview – mathematical modelling


Mathematical models use the language of mathematics to very effectively describe, understand and evaluate systems. Mathematical models are used in the natural sciences and engineering disciplines (such as physics, biology, earth science, meteorology, and engineering) and in the social sciences (such as economics, psychology, sociology and political science).

The process of developing a mathematical model is termed 'mathematical modelling'. The process involves a four-stage process:

  • formulation
  • solution
  • interpretation
  • underpinning decision support.

Mathematical models can take many forms, including but not limited to, dynamical systems, statistical models, differential equations, or game theoretic models. These and other types of models can overlap, with a given model involving a variety of abstract structures.

The use of high-level mathematical methodology is amazingly successful, and in some cases may be an alternative to costly, sometimes dangerous experiments. Most phenomena can be cast into a mathematical framework at a variety of levels of sophistication and often simple models do better, at least at the beginning.

The term systems biology captures the activity that mathematicians are doing currently in the Liggins Institute and the National Research Centre for Growth and Development (NRCGD). They are currently involved in growth models, life-history model development, epigenetic models, developmental genetic models, cancer growth.

Working in such new interdisciplinary areas provides an exciting challenge and requires goodwill on both sides. But the potential gain is very high.

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The International Healthy Start to Life Project (IHSLP)


This project, based at the Liggins Institute will create a comprehensive economic model based on medical and economic data that will enable policymakers to assess the cost-benefit implications of health promoting interventions in specific populations at specific times in the life course. This will be used to analyze the potential benefits of investing in health during intrauterine development and in early life versus spending on interventions or disease treatment later in life, when the costs will inevitably be substantially greater.

This is a new, multi-disciplinary approach in which scientists, medical and public health specialists, economists, mathematicians and policy advisors in developed and developing countries are working together.

Prospective longitudinal cohort data from Brazil, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Pakistan and Singapore is being modelled.

Read more about Public health and translational research

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Fortune telling during development – modelling the life history strategy


This project aims to understand how environmental factors operating early in life can regulate key genes to influence development and bring about particular health outcomes. Researchers are developing a mathematical model that will describe how environmental influences on the embryo, fetus or newborn, such as changes in nutrition or stress, modify the way certain key genes are regulated to determine how the adult will handle food and stress. They will then test this in an animal model for the development of obesity and diabetes to find if their predictions hold true. They hope it will provide tools to predict the risks of some diseases at an early stage and help us find ways to alter those risks.

The project brings together an international multi-disciplinary team including researchers at the Liggins Institute, AgResearch and the universities of Southampton and Cambridge in the UK.

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