By Ashley Yeager

Rick Durrett is looking at the math underlying the most challenging biological problems. Credit: Les Todd, Duke Photography.

“Cancers are complicated systems, and you want to figure out how they work,” says mathematician Rick Durrett in a Q&A in the latest editions of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Durrett, who was recently elected to the Academy, came to Duke in the summer of 2010 and has been collaborating with researchers to here, using the tools of probability theory to look for ways to study cancer questions through computer simulations rather than large experimental trials.

One of the greatest challenges is to understand how cells use social networking to survive and adapt to their environment. Durrett has been working with biologists to describe mathematically how individual cells secrete chemicals that affect the behavior of nearby cells.

“This may be important for the spread of cancers. It’s an interesting area, and one I’m learning more about now,” he said in the PNAS interview.

You can read the full interview here.