Friday, February 3, 2017

Alan Perelson wins the 2017 Max Delbruck Prize in Biological Physics

Alan Perelson, of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been named the winner of the 2017 Max Delbruck Prize in Biological Physics by the American Physical Society. His award was “for profound contributions to theoretical immunology, which bring insight and save lives.”

One skill Russ Hobbie and I try to develop in students using Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology is the ability to translate words into mathematics. Below I present a new homework problem based on one of Perelson’s most highly cited papers (Perelson et al., 1996, Science, 271:1582–1586), which provides practice in this important technique. This exercise asks the student to make a mathematical model of the immune system that explains how T-cells—a type of white blood cell—respond to HIV infection.
Section 10.8

Problem 37 1/2. A model of HIV infection includes the concentration of uninfected T-cells, T, the concentration of infected T-cells, T*, and the concentration of virions, V.

(a) Write a pair of coupled differential equations for T* and V based on the following assumptions
  • If no virions are present, the immune system removes infected T-cells with rate δ,
  • If no infected T-cells are present, the immune system removes virions with rate c
  • Infected T-cells are produced at a rate proportional to the product of the concentrations of uninfected T-cells and virions; let the constant of proportionality be k
  • Virions are produced at a rate proportional to the concentration of infected T-cells with a constant of proportionality , where N is the number of virions per infected T-cell. 
(b) In steady state, determine the concentration of uninfected T-cells.
One of Perelson’s coauthors on the 1996 paper was David Ho. Yes, the David Ho who was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1996.

For those who prefer video, watch Perelson discuss immunology for physicists.

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