I have been attracted both to exact sciences and healthcare from my early youth on. A presentation of a master project where mathematics was applied to healthcare, is what made me decide to study Applied Mathematics. My main interests became numerical mathematics, computer science, operational research, and mathematical physics. But I always felt strongly attracted to the medical field as well.
I was happy to find a master project in the field of radiation therapy treatment planning at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam. The objective was simple: invent a method that creates a treatment plan where the dose to the tumour is sufficient to cure the patient, but the dose outside the tumour is as low as possible to minimise the probability of developing radiation-induced complications, which can have a significant effect on the quality of life of the patient.
And 13 years later, currently as Assistant Professor, I am still doing exactly that. During the master project I realised that Applied Mathematics is a welcome contribution to the medical field, and that it can be applied to many levels of the problem. In essence, it is an optimisation problem. But in medicine, there is often no “golden standard”, so many discussions with clinicians are required to model the decision-making in mathematical form. The next step is solving the optimisation problem as fast as possible, which, if fast enough, enables more targeted treatments. And there are economic and ethical challenges as well: if there is a more expensive treatment available, how much better should it be to justify the costs? Answering such questions require objective tools.
Radiation therapy treatment planning turned out to be a highly multidisciplinary field, for which my education in Applied Mathematics at the University of Technology in Delft prepared me well. I like to be working at this interplay, communicating my work to the general public, and seeking both pragmatic and fundamental ways to improve healthcare.
Graduation year: 2005
Bachelor programme: Applied Mathematics (TUD)
Master programme: Applied Mathematics (TUD)
Track/specialisation: numerical mathematics, mathematical physics
Current position: Assistant Professor
Company: Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam