Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Joe Eichholz is a doctoral student in the Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences Program whose research assists those in biomedical research. Though he doesn’t wear a lab coat or work in a lab, his research is vital to scientists. The mathematical progressions he develops will save valuable time and money for cancer researchers.

Eichholz is developing a mathematical tool that will aid researchers who illuminate cancer cells to study how they impact an organism. By measuring the light used to illuminate the cancer cells, the researchers are able to judge the movement of the cells in an animal, such as a mouse. Studying such cancer cell activity helps scientists understand details about the invasive nature of cancer in order to develop more effective treatment.

Currently, cancer researchers lack an efficient tool for measuring the light emissions. This is where Eichholz research comes into play.

Eichholz is working to find an equation that can accurately estimate light emissions in an unpredictable environment. “Light bounces all over, which can complicate things,” he said. Eichholz’s equation must describe these complications in order to produce an accurate estimate. In other words, his task is to find a solution to a problem by using a series of approximations. It’s complicated work that Eichholz simplifies with an analogy. If the cancer cell were a jug of milk, researchers would be lighting the jug of milk by placing a light bulb inside. “My job is to figure out where the light bulb is inside the jug of milk,” he said. “I can do that by measuring the amount of light coming out of the jug.”

Through his research, Eichholz hopes to help cancer researchers dramatically reduce the time required to track cancer cell movement. Currently, researchers run thousands of trials to arrive at an accurate estimate. Using his equation, Eichholz anticipates that processes that currently take hours will take only seconds.

Eichholz earned a degree in math and computer science at Western Illinois University and decided to continue his studies at the University of Iowa because of its strong math and computer science program.

In addition to his research, Eichholz assists the next generation of researchers by mentoring undergraduate scholars through the UI’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP). He not only teaches them effective research methods, but also allows them to work on pieces of his own research, in simplified formats. Their basic findings, he said, are valuable components that will make positive contributions to his future research.