On the Bridge between medicine and mathematics

My journey from having a double life in Colombia to doing research in Germany…

Hi there! Let me introduce myself. My name is Cristian and I am from Colombia, a place of warmhearted people and beautiful nature. For most of my life, I have been involved with two kinds of worlds. Medicine and mathematics, that is.  I went to medical school and then worked in health centers taking care of patients. Almost in parallel, I studied theoretical mathematics and then worked as a teacher for students of all ages. As you can see, I was literally having two completely disconnected lives with all the troubles that this can bring. In this post, I would like to briefly tell you how I went from there, to start my PhD in Karlsruhe.  

To understand my story, we should start in my childhood...

 I had wanted to study medicine ever since I was a little boy. However, I had the amazing chance to join a college-level mathematics program when I was only 10 years old.  From that moment on, I started to fall in love with the greatness of mathematics. My mind was pushed beyond my limits and I became familiar with concepts that I had never seen before. I continued this path through my teenage years going to high school during the day and to university in the evenings. But the dream of becoming a doctor one day and be able to improve people’s lives, never left my mind.

Thus, when I turned 16, I started medical school. For some years, I struggled between the last courses of mathematics and the first years of Medicine. Finally, I got my Mathematics degree at 19 and three years later, at 22, my Medicine degree.

In the years after that, I obtained different kinds of professional experiences. As my main job, I worked at a health center of the Colombian Red Cross as a physician for almost 4 years. In some countries like Colombia, you can start already working as a physician after six years of medical school before the clinical specialization. Moreover, I worked as a volunteer teacher of mathematics in different environments. The summer of 2019, I was a supervised medical officer in the West Gogna Hospital in Damongo/Ghana.  All these experiences strengthened my desires to make bigger contributions to society and science.

Last day of work in Ghana with the nurses of the pediatric ward

However, I had not had the opportunity to connect both types of knowledge yet. Some people I met along the way, thought I was crazy or indecisive. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to let go of any of my passions. Moreover, I always knew that Mathematics could have a great impact in medical research. The problem is that back in those days I didn’t know exactly how. While most of mathematicians are afraid of blood, most of doctors get dizzy with mathematical equations. I realized I needed a change of environment, a bridge where I could be in contact with my both passions at the same time.

Teaching some probability and physiology to high school students in Colombia

In 2018, I got a full scholarship to start studying my master’s program in Systems biology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. There, I learned how to apply mathematics to medical research questions. For my master thesis, I had my first close approach to atrial fibrillation, developing a computational Markov model at a populational level to assess risk factors and clinical outcomes.

Some exciting news...

Before I finished my master thesis and in the middle of corona crisis, I received an email from professor Olaf Dössel giving me some of the most exciting news of my life: I was accepted to start my Ph.D. in Karlsruhe at KIT as part of the PersonalizeAF project. Being aware of the importance of research in the clinical field, I really appreciated the opportunity of making contributions from this side.

I fell in love with cardiac modeling during my master and now I am thrilled about continuing to work on cardiac modeling but on a different scale. Here at KIT, we simulate the electrical propagation in 3D-models of the heart, or at least my colleagues are doing it. I am still learning how to implement simulations on a small block of the virtual heart. 

This week I completed my first month of work. It was a little challenging to do all the paperwork and move to another country, especially during corona times. But now that I am settled I have begun to feel Karlsruhe as my new home. I spent most of my working hours last month reading about the mathematical theory behind the models we used at KIT. Also, I have been learning how to use openCARP, the star software for cardiac modeling at the institute. Soon, I expect to start developing a new mathematical model to perform more efficient 3D simulations of atrial fibrillation.

I will keep you posted about my progress in the incoming months.

 See you next time!!