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Understanding immunology via engineering design: the role of mathematical prototyping.

Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine 2012:676015 (2012) PMID 22973412 PMCID PMC3438878

A major challenge in immunology is how to translate data into knowledge given the inherent complexity and dynamics of human physiology. Both the physiology and engineering communities have rich histories in applying computational approaches to translate data obtained from complex systems into knowledge of system behavior. However, there are some differences in how disciplines approach problems. By referring to mathematical models as mathematical prototypes, we aim to highlight aspects related to the process (i.e., prototyping) rather than the product (i.e., the model). The objective of this paper is to review how two related engineering concepts, specifically prototyping and "fitness for use," can be applied to overcome the pressing challenge in translating data into improved knowledge of basic immunology that can be used to improve therapies for disease. These concepts are illustrated using two immunology-related examples. The prototypes presented focus on the beta cell mass at the onset of type 1 diabetes and the dynamics of dendritic cells in the lung. This paper is intended to illustrate some of the nuances associated with applying mathematical modeling to improve understanding of the dynamics of disease progression in humans.

DOI: 10.1155/2012/676015