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SMAS Seminar Series
June 23, 2017 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
We’ve been fortunate to have Robert Smith present seminars to us a number of times in the past. They are always entertaining and enlightening. This time he says there’ll be an Easter egg at the end…
You are cordially invited to attend his seminar.
Identifying the Conditions Under Which Antibodies Protect Against Infection by Equine Infectious Anemia Virus
Associate Professor Robert Smith? ( The University of Ottawa )
The ability to predict the conditions under which antibodies protect against viral infection would transform our approach to vaccine development. A more complete understanding is needed of antibody protection against lentivirus infection, as well as the role of mutation in resistance to an antibody vaccine. Recently, an example of antibody-mediated vaccine protection has been shown via passive transfer of neutralizing antibodies before equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV) infection of horses with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Viral dynamic modeling of antibody protection from EIAV infection in SCID horses may lead to insights into the mechanisms of control of infection by antibody vaccination. In this work, such a model is constructed in conjunction with data from EIAV infection of SCID horses to gain insights into multiple strain competition in the presence of antibody control. Conditions are determined under which wild-type infection is eradicated with the antibody vaccine. In addition, a three-strain competition model is considered in which a second mutant strain may coexist with the first mutant strain. The conditions that permit viral escape by the mutant strains are determined, as are the effects of variation in the model parameters. This work extends the current understanding of competition and antibody control in lentiviral infection, which may provide insights into the development of vaccines that stimulate the immune system to control infection effectively.
About Robert Smith?
No, the question mark is not a typo, but rather how Robert Smith? distinguishes himself in a world of Google searches. Though the name is unique in itself, it is Robert’s research that truly marks him as a creative and innovative mathematician.
Robert has never been interested in simple arithmetic, and says “I still can’t figure out the tip in a restaurant.” Though his interest in mathematics was originally piqued in high school when math class moved beyond calculations to more abstract concepts, it is the power of applied mathematics to solve real-world problems that has held his attention. Using what Robert describes as the “language of math,” you can translate a biological problem into mathematical terms and create a mathematical model. “You can then analyze your model and come to a mathematical conclusion, which can then be translated back into the biology,” says Robert. “This conclusion may be something that wouldn’t be obvious just by thinking through in the real world, but translating it into mathematics gives you access to logic and rigour.”
Given this penchant for solving real-world problems, it seems ironic that Robert is best known for his research in an imaginary field: zombies. In 2009, he co-authored a paper detailing a mathematical model of a zombie outbreak that attracted a storm of media attention.1 Yet this research has more applications in reality than are readily apparent. The researchers had to create a model for an infection outbreak without relying on any existing models, an important practice in preparation for the outbreak of new diseases and epidemics. “By modelling zombies, we learn about the process of dealing with unfamiliar biology,” says Robert. Robert further explores the topic in his book Braaaiiinnnsss: From Academics to Zombies.
The zombie paper evolved from Robert’s ongoing research into diseases. His primary research focus lies in HIV modelling. Along with his research team from the University of Ottawa, he developed a mathematical model to examine how best to eliminate HIV/AIDS worldwide.2 He has also published research on the importance of adherence to HIV treatments, and possible perverse outcomes of HIV vaccines.
Robert also conducts research into what he calls ‘neglected’ diseases, for which no or very few mathematical models exist. Through mathematical models, says Robert, mathematicians can “analyze intervention strategies, track the spread of the disease and determine which measures might work and which might be doomed to failure. All without costly clinical trials or long delays while data is collected.” Robert further explores the topic of disease modelling in his textbook Modelling Disease Ecology with Mathematics.
Robert’s current course load at the University of Ottawa includes a third year course on chaos theory and a new course, “Mathematical Modelling of Zombies.” He also teaches a first-year Calculus course for Life Sciences majors, which offers the challenge of teaching students who would prefer not to be in a math class. “By the end of the semester, what I have done is convince people why math is important,” says Robert. “Although a mathematician or computer can solve the analytical problems, it’s only when the biologists and the mathematicians work hand in hand that truly useful mathematical models can be created.”