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How can mathematics help us understand certain diseases of the eye?

Dr. Erika Camacho

January 25, 2014
An interactive session led by Dr. Erika Camacho
MLK Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Summer co-director of the Mathematical & Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI).

Mathematics, combined with computer simulations, has been used to study many problems in biology and medicine, ranging from how to treat cancer, to how protein molecules fold into 3-dimensional shapes, and to how infections like the flu spread. In this presentation, I will talk about Retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a group of inherited degenerative eye diseases caused by genetic mutations in the eye’s photoreceptors that often leads to total blindness. I will show how with mathematics we can start to understand all the different things that have to go wrong along the way as the disease gradually leads to complete blindness. And this understanding can then hopefully help us to figure out what to do to prevent this outcome.

Erika Tatiana Camacho grew up in East Los Angeles and was taught by Jaime Escalante at Garfield High School. She received her Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Cornell University. She has held positions at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Loyola Marymount University, and ASU. She is currently an MLK Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  She co-founded and co-directed the Applied Mathematical Sciences Summer Institute (AMSSI), dedicated to the recruitment of undergraduate women, underrepresented minorities, and those that might not otherwise have the opportunity.  She is summer co-director of the Mathematical & Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI) focused on similar efforts.  Her current research is at the interface of mathematics, biology, physiology, and sociology and involves mathematically modeling degenerative eye diseases, Type-2 Diabetes, gene networks within yeast, social networks, alcohol effects on a neuron firing, and fungal resistance under selective pressure. Her leadership, scholarship, and mentoring has won her national recognition including the SACNAS Distinguished Undergraduate Mentoring Award in 2012 and the National Hispanic Women Corporation Latina Leadership Award in 2011, recognition as one of 12 Emerging Scholars of 2010 by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, and a citation for mentoring and guiding undergraduates in research by the U.S. National Security Agency.  Some of her local recognitions include the Dr. Manuel Servin Faculty Award for excellence in exemplifying achievement in research, mentorship of Hispanic students, leadership at ASU and in the community in 2013, the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Faculty Service Award in 2013, the 40 Hispanic Leaders Under 40 Award in 2012 and the ASU Faculty Women’s Association Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award in 2011.

After the interactive session the students will be escorted by their parents to have lunch and then to the hands-on portion of the event. There the students will enjoy the experience of interacting with various exhibits from the Virginia Tech community.