When people from different disciplines put their heads together, it can result in enhanced discovery. The joint research of George Plopper, Professor in the Department of Biology, and Bülent Yener, Professor in the departments of Computer Science and Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, is a case in point. Their unique partnership has given rise to a new computational model called “cell graphs” that join the power of computational science with traditional biology in the fight against disease.

Instead of looking at tissue as a series of cells, graph theory is used to simplify the system into a series of dots and lines with the dots being the cells and the lines their interactions. The program links and compares the accuracy of data from actual human tissue samples gathered through histology with those grown in the controlled laboratory setting. The result is a new tool that can detect and distinguish cancer and quantify the actual differences between tissues analyzed.

Colin Kuebler ’13 worked on this project, developing software to view and manipulate the cell graphs. “This could lead to much more advanced automated techniques,” he said. “This would be a great help to the medical community in being able to identify problems very far in advance—more cheaply and more reliably.”

All in all, a significant breakthrough—and another testimony to the value of an interdisciplinary approach.

"If I were to tell them I’m collaborating with Dr. X in the Department of Y, no one would look at me funny and wonder why. It’s just the way it is, and I love that here."

- George Plopper