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Using Physics to Model Medical/Biological Phenomena

  1. Jul 12, 2012 #1
    Just out of curiosity, is physics (advanced or theoretical, not simple classical physics like thermodynamics or mechanical properties) ever used to model, solve, explain, or apply to medical or biological (human) systems? I know hemodynamics and neuroscience involves a lot of math based physical science, but has the overlap ever been made between these fields of medicine/biology and advanced physical disciplines such as microfluidics, condensed matter, plasma physics, laser physics, high energy, particle, and the like? This is probably kind of absurd (I'm still in high school so I don't know a whole lot about these subjects) and I know that a lot of these properties are not directly involved in biological areas, but I was curious if any have ever been adapted to mirror or model certain system properties.
     
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  3. Jul 12, 2012 #2
    One example might be an MRI as a technological application.
    But as models for biological phenomena... its going to have to be something awfully simple biologically or something very specific. Maybe what happens to the appropriate electrons in a central Mg atom in a molecule of chlorophyll when a photon of light strikes. I can "see" lots of stuff with visible light as it has the right amount of energy to get biological molecules "excited".
     
  4. Jul 12, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the reply! Yeah I hadn't considered photosynthesis, but that's a good point about using light to excite bio-molecules, esp. in those kind of light dependent reactions.
     
  5. Jul 13, 2012 #4
    A famous phrase from history, attributed to Franklin and to Faraday, is

    What use is a newborn baby?

    Well medicine has since made much use of their baby, electricity.

    It is not that long since the structure of DNA was unravelled. We are pushing on to complicated molecular manipulations for both DNA and other substances - Who knows how tomorrow's virus treatments will arise?

    MRI, Xrays, Radiotherapy, isotope tracers and istopic dilution analysis would not be possible today without the pioneering work in atomic and nuclear physics/chemistry.

    Buckeyballs are a very recent discovery. Uses and potential uses are still being evaluated. However it is known that other things can be encpasulated within the ball for delivery to required locations.
     
  6. Jul 14, 2012 #5

    atyy

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    Compare the mathematics in http://neurotheory.columbia.edu/~larry/ToyoizumiPRE11.pdf and http://prb.aps.org/abstract/PRB/v25/i11/p6860_1 . The first is a paper modelling some aspects of the cortex, the second is a paper about spin glasses.

    The basic connection is a similarity between the Feynman path integral in quantum mechanics and the path integral of Wiener to describe classical random processes, eg. Chapter 3 of http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/etheodor/papers/TheodorouThesisCorrected.pdf [Broken].

    Also interesting is http://keck.ucsf.edu/~surya/DynCompSense.pdf [Broken] , http://keck.ucsf.edu/~surya/DynCompSenseSupp.pdf [Broken] about memory in the brain, which you can compare with the work of Terry Tao, a mathematician http://terrytao.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/compressed-sensing1.pdf , .
     
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  7. Jul 14, 2012 #6
    I've been starting to get into the use of mean field methods (from mechanics) to study populations of neuron; an approach which is becoming not-uncommon.
     
  8. Jul 14, 2012 #7

    Monique

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    Sure, here's one example http://celldynamics.org/celldynamics/people/munro/index.html
    There are many more examples, I know many research groups that are using physics-based computer models to explain complex biological systems. The beauty is that the computer models generate new hypotheses that can be tested in the lab to confirm the model.
     
  9. Jul 14, 2012 #8
    To me this is much more like using math to study the dynamics of populations. Its large scale modeling more like weather. Except you cannot setup large scale controlled experiments for weather. The future weather is the experiment. Very interesting stuff. I guess I was trying to get down to the nitty gritty of using a very particular biological phenomena that one would have to use QM to explain. Atomic level stuff. But then that becomes rather uncontrolled as the surrounding molecule, ex using chlorophyll, adds uncontrolled features.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2012
  10. Jul 14, 2012 #9

    Andy Resnick

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    There are several efforts to do this- mechanobiology, genomics/proteomics/*-omics, etc., in addition to the use of more advanced experimental techniques: high-throughput screening, surface plasmon resonance, improved NMR methods (TROSY, etc.), single-molecule studies (protein folding, motor proteins), structure-function studies of proteins, and increasingly advanced statistical methods applied to data analysis.

    However, there is still a considerable gap between what physicists *think* biology is and what biologists consider important problems. Why do you think high energy particle physics should be applicable to biology (except for radiobiology)?
     
  11. Jul 14, 2012 #10

    Monique

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    When 'only' studying a certain aspect the modeling is a lot 'simpler' (some mentioned in the post above, advanced stuff), but the challenge and the shift in the field is to be able to model complex systems.

    Read the paper described in the following link, I think it will be very interesting to you: http://f1000.com/1047248
    http://www.cell.com/cancer-cell/retrieve/pii/S1535610802001332
     
  12. Jul 14, 2012 #11

    atyy

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    But is this still true nowadays? Aren't there enough people like you who are both physicists and biologists to demonstrate to make this statement false?
     
  13. Jul 14, 2012 #12
    One of the most exciting applications of physics in the fields of biology and medicine is the area of nanotechnology. It can be used (I'm not sure if it is possible as of right now but in the future it definitely will be) for better drug-delivery, early identification of diseases, removal of tumors or cancerous organs and so forth. And nanotechnology is basically advanced physics as it is very difficult to make complex structures at the nanoscale level which actually do something useful.
     
  14. Jul 14, 2012 #13

    Ygggdrasil

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    There plenty of physicists who do very interesting biology. There are also plenty of physicists who do very uninteresting biology.
     
  15. Jul 14, 2012 #14
    Thanks for your response. To clarify, I don't think it SHOULD necessarily, I was just curious whether some of these properties, theories, and behaviors of what has been considered strictly high energy physics (or something of the like) have ever been used to explain or inspire the explanation of complicated bio-systems. I know there are several physics studies and behaviors that are sort of weird if you will (e.g. many classical mechanics properties don't hold true at the quantum level and vise versa), just as there are some bio-fields that too are much more advanced and don't behave the way that is easiest to understand (e.g. neuroscience or certain aspects of genetics or even more in depth aspects of cardiology and hematology). Advanced mathematical theories also can exhibit these properties. Therefore I wondered whether or not, since these subfields are so unique to the other realms of their respective fields, if maybe some of these bizarre qualities could relate to the bizarre qualities of other (seemingly unrelated) disciplines. So far the answers I've received have been great and there's a lot more out there than I even thought. So in short, I didn't really expect particle physics to be relatable, I was just trying to make sure the difference was clear that I wasn't meaning classical mechanics that would be quite obvious in having a role in biology just as they would anywhere else.
     
  16. Jul 14, 2012 #15
    Thank you very much, everyone, for your responses and all the links. They've really helped and have been very interesting aspects of biology (and physics/math).
     
  17. Jul 15, 2012 #16
    Kinda late here, but anyway....

    OP - I think you might be underappreciating the role of classical (& statistical) mechanics and thermodynamics in understanding biological questions.

    For example, there's this "www.rpgroup.caltech.edu/publications/Garcia2011a.pdf" [Broken] (PDF) on the applications of thermodynamics/equilibrium stat. mech., where they touch upon applications ranging from hemoglobin and ion channel function to signal transduction and gene regulation. In addition, "alumnus.caltech.edu/~callaway/AdProtChem.pdf" [Broken] (also a PDF) discusses dynamics of multidomain proteins utilizing a fundamentally classical model. (Although, admittedly, using quasielastic neutron spectroscopy is hardly the most classical of methods......) And there's a rather substantial literature on using classical methods to establish constraints on organismal behavior and physiology (e.g., are there thresholds for certain behaviors that depend on size?).

    Anyway....
     
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  18. Jul 15, 2012 #17

    cepheid

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    I heard a story on the radio about "quantum biology" in which it was being discussed how the standard "lock and key" picture of how enzymes fit into their receptors may be insufficient to fully explain what is going on. The idea was that, in addition to considering the shape or structure of the molecule, there was evidence that we have to take into account what sort of vibrational modes or resonances it had. I'm no biochemist, but it certainly sounded interesting.
     
  19. Jul 15, 2012 #18

    Ygggdrasil

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    The story was probably referring to the following paper, published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

    Franco et al. 2011. Molecular vibration-sensing component in Drosophila melanogaster olfaction. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:3797. doi:10.1073/pnas.1012293108

    This isn't really "quantum biology" how most people might think of quantum biology. The quantum claim really only holds true in that the vibrations of molecules are governed by quantum mechanics. Furthermore, although the ideas presented in the paper are very interesting, the idea that olfactory receptors may be sensing the vibrations of a molecule remains controversial, and we don't yet fully understand everything that is going on here (see the following correspondences over the paper published here and here).
     
  20. Jul 15, 2012 #19
    being able to detect difference in isotopes does throw a huge wrench into our current system of experiments. Isotopes are used for A LOT OF PURPOSES because we can detect them in experiments in place of the normal compounds.
     
  21. Jul 15, 2012 #20

    atyy

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    Isotopic effects in chemistry were known quite a bit before last year, eg.
    http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2006/08/01/testosterone_carbon_isotopes_and_floyd_landis.php [Broken]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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