Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Fighting cancer by the numbers

Terry Speed doesn’t expect to see headlines reading “Statistician cures cancer” any time soon. But he knows that the right mathematics and statistics can help researchers understand the underlying causes of cancer and reduce the need for surgery.

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A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads. But he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help them cope with the genetic revolution.

Twenty years ago biologists looked at one or two genes in isolation. Today they can track thousands of genes in a single cell, but to understand the results they need tools of the kind that Terry develops.

At 70, he is focusing on techniques to sort out the thousands of differences between normal and cancer cells, moving closer to the clinic with ideas to treat cancer more efficiently, and working with industry to create a tool to determine if your thyroid growth is benign or not.

For his contribution to making sense of genomics and related technologies, the head of Bioinformatics at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Emeritus Professor Terry Speed has been awarded the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Though his office overlooks where he went to high school, and is over the road from the university where he studied as an undergraduate, Professor Terry Speed has come a long way. He now works at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.