Herbert Levine is a University distinguished professor of physics at the Northeastern University who shifted from theoretical physics to biophysics research. According to Levine, he looked for problems in biology that resembled his physics research, which examined waves in chemical systems. Levine, who attended MIT as an undergraduate came to the Northeastern University from Rice University as the first faculty recruit for the Northeastern “Game Changers” initiative in January 2019.
Initially, he used theoretical physics to study simple microorganisms like bacteria but now, he applies ideas from physics, mathematics, and computation to biomedicine, in particular, to cancer science. The research examines how, on a fundamental level, cancer spreads, and why some treatments work well for certain patients but not others. His previous work focused on using computation to understand how a lung cell, for example, can change and metastasise, traveling to different parts of the body.
According to Levine, this work helped inform a new generation of experiments to study tumor metastasis. His latest research focuses on immunotherapy, which is a type of cancer treatment that uses a person’s immune system to fight it. However, the approach still does not work for many patients. The researchers don’t exactly know the reason behind this. And because cancer therapies can have serious side effects, it’s important to have a better idea of who is most likely to benefit from them. He is trying to find answers which could eventually help researchers develop better ways to predict and prevent the progression of cancer. But, according to Levine, the team is focused on addressing fundamental questions rather than direct clinical applications.
“There are advances that can be made without really looking at the fundamentals. Sometimes you can make progress purely empirically by doing different experiments and that’s great. And then there are problems where you get stuck, and you just need some more fundamental understanding about how things work. That’s what we’re trying to do.” Levine says.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman