Q&A With Rachel Sousa
Curing Cancer With Math
UCI is a special place where innovative research takes place every day. It is a place where leaders are shaped for the future and life-changing discoveries are made. Whether it’s research to find a cure for cancer or an effort to finally support long term life on Mars, big things are happening at UCI. Rachel Sousa won the 2022 UCI Grad Slam Competition and will compete in the UC system-wide competition on May 6.
Can you tell us a bit about your research?
In my research, I use math to explore the interactions between the immune system and cancer. I am building a mathematical model of the cancer-immune system to identify the key differences that distinguish the ability of the immune system to eliminate cancer from those features that allow cancer to evade the immune system and persist in the body. With my model, I will be able to make predictions about the best combinations and schedules of immunotherapies (drugs that stimulate a person’s own immune system) that we should use to fight cancer.
What got you interested in doing the work you do?
I have always loved math but didn’t know that it could be applied to a field like biology. During my first year of college, an older math student discussed how he used math to study riverbed systems during an internship. That conversation led me to discover the field of mathematical biology and I started conducting my undergraduate research soon after. Then I had an internship one summer with the National Cancer Institute where I constructed mathematical models of cancer cell growth and drug resistance. It was through that internship that I gained a deep interest in using math to study disease and where I decided that I wanted to go to grad school!
With my model, I will be able to make predictions about the best combinations and schedules of immunotherapies (drugs that stimulate a person’s own immune system) that we should use to fight cancer. – Rachel Sousa
You won this year’s UCI Grad Slam and are moving onto the systemwide finals: congrats! What has you most excited about being able to compete and represent UCI on May 6?
I am excited to represent UCI at the systemwide finals and have a platform to share how math can be applied to biology. I think that math is often an under-appreciated subject, so I am happy to shed some light on it and represent UCI while doing so.
If you could give one tip to future UCI grad students looking to compete, what would it be?
I would definitely recommend competing in Grad Slam to other students. One tip I would give them is to practice all the time and to several different groups of people. You need to have your speech thoroughly memorized and practicing in front of various groups of people (say your family, friends, people in your cohort, your PIs, etc) helps you to get different perspectives on not only the content of the speech but the delivery of it too!