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Spanish science that competes and wins at MIT

A biomedical engineer by Tecnun, Itziar Irurzun's doctoral thesis at the School of Pharmacy and Nutrition of the University of Navarra has taken her to Harvard for an internship.

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Alumna Itziar Irurzun wins first prize at QQSP Day 2018, organized at MIT. PHOTO: Courtesy
18/04/18 13:56 Communication Service

Itziar Irurzun Arana (Tecnun'15) admits that she did not expect to win the first prize at QSP Day 2018, organized at the MIT(Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a forum where she has just presented the poster on a work she did for her doctoral thesis and related to a type of modeling for System Pharmacology networks. In any case, this is not the first award Irurzun has won, since he won the BINVAS 2017, organized by the Entrepreneurship Unit of the University of Navarra and led by Gustavo Pego at Tecnun.  

Precisely as part of her PhD - to which she has dedicated the last three years under the direction of Professor Iñaki Fernández de Trocóniz within the Pharmacometry and Systems Pharmacology research group - Itziar crossed the pond for a six-month stay at Harvard, in the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

There he attended the conference Quantitative Systems Pharmacology (QSP Day) and decided to present. The prize she won for the best poster is a thousand dollars, but it is much more than that: "It shows that the research we do in Spain can be on a par with the best centers in the world," says the engineer, who is a member of the first graduating class of the Degree in Biomedical Engineering at the School of Engineering of the University of Navarra in San Sebastian (Tecnun).

Engineering, Pharmacy and mathematical modeling

His thesis project seems unrelated to Engineering, but nothing could be further from the truth: "I am trying to develop and apply new methodologies in the design and implementation of Pharmacokinetic-Pharmacodynamic and Systems Pharmacology models". In other words, these are mathematical models that serve to describe and predict both the time course of drug concentrations in the organism and their action on the progress of the disease or other clinical manifestations.

"The interest of these models," adds Itziar, "is that, by means of computer simulations, we can relate dosing patterns to the observed clinical response. This allows us to optimize therapeutic regimens to obtain a response more in line with patients' needs." "My task as a biomedical engineer is, precisely, "to search for and improve computational methods that help develop and analyze this type of models."

Dr. Michor's group, with whom she works during her time at Harvard, specializes in the development of computational models to predict (and thus prevent) the emergence of resistance to drugs used during chemotherapy, among other fields. "If we are able to describe the evolution of the tumor over time, and predict whether cancer cells can suffer mutations that make them resistant to drugs, we could find the best way to administer a drug to delay, as much as possible, the appearance of these resistances," stresses Itziar.

Once she finishes her stay and defends her PhD, new professional challenges will open up for her. "Although I would like to continue researching and developing these types of models, I don't know if I will do it in academia or industry, or through my own business. He knows, in any case, that the stay at Harvard multiplies, according to any mathematical model on employability, his job possibilities.

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