Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation


Dr Murk Bottema - Breast Cancer Research

Name: Murk Jan Bottema

Department: School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics

Major project: Computer-aided early detection of breast cancer

How long have you worked at Flinders? 17 years

What led you to this area of research?
Opportunity and interest. Nearly all my work has been in the use of mathematics and computers to understand biological and medical systems. In the mid 1990’s an opportunity arose to head a new team on applying these skill to early detection of breast cancer. The obvious importance of this problem and the possibility of making serious contribution were an immediate appeal.

What other collaborations are you working on?

I work on mathematical descriptions of the properties of bone and especially the changes of the structure of cancellous bone over time with a team of biomedical engineers at Flinders University and bone experts at the IMVS. I also work on the mathematical understanding of the distribution of fat in tissue with researchers at the University of Adelaide.

Approximately when could we see your work in the mainstream health system?

This is a difficult question. Our work is focussed on the early detection of breast cancer but, within this arena, it is at the theoretical end. When we have positive results, these must be tested in a preliminary setting and then in a full clinical setting before they can be refined for general clinical use. Most of these steps are out of our direct control and hence estimates of time are difficult. Many years, in any event.

What does an average day in your job at Flinders entail?
About half the day is working through emails and associated administrative tasks, including research administration. Another forth or so is devoted to teaching related matters. The remaining forth is directly or indirectly related to research including meeting with research students, meeting with collaborators, writing papers, writing grants, preparing presentations, peer reviewing the work of others, contributing to the organising events such as conferences, and contributing to the running of professional organisations.

Have you had a Eureka moment or ever discovered anything by accident?
Nearly every small discovery has had an element of chance associated. This makes research planning so difficult. Often we are quite confident that something important will be found if we pursue a certain direction, but we do not always know what it will be.

How would extra funding support your research?

Our group has developed and refined several individual tasks needed for the overall task of early detection. $25,000 would go a long way to organising these individual achievements into a cohesive platform. Such a platform would greatly increase the efficiency of testing individual components in the context of the overall aim – reliably identifying subtle early signs of cancer.

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