De Pillis Honored for Research, Teaching, Mentoring

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Lisette de Pillis, Norman F. Sprague Jr. Professor of Life Sciences and professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, is the co-recipient of the Intercollegiate Biomathematics Alliance (IBA) 2020 Distinguished Senior Fellowship​ Award.

The award is for established scholars “who have made outstanding scientific achievements, demonstrated a record of exceptional scientific contributions and active leadership in mathematical biology both as researchers and educators.” Recipients “exemplify not only an outstanding level of scientific endeavor but also of mentoring and leadership which helped create scientific opportunities for the future scholars of the field.”

“This recognition is well-deserved for Lisette’s exceptional contributions to mathematical biology and equally steadfast efforts to support and inspire mathematicians and scientists internationally in the power and beauty of mathematical biology,” said Jon Jacobsen, chair of the HMC Department of Mathematics and Kenneth and Diana Jonsson Professor of Mathematics.

De Pillis works with other mathematicians, biologists and oncologists to search for new ways to treat diseases that interact with the immune system, in particular cancer, HIV and Type I diabetes. She received the IBA Fellowship Award jointly with Ami Radunskaya, professor of mathematics at Pomona College and a longtime collaborator in the area of modeling cancer growth and treatment. In 2005, de Pillis published the article “A Validated Mathematical Model of Cell-Mediated Immune Response to Tumor Growth” (with Radunskaya and Dr. Charles Wiseman from St. Vincent Medical Center) in Cancer Research, one of the most widely read medical journals. Recent work with international colleagues in mathematics and in experimental biology culminated in the publication of “Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) used as carrier cells of oncolytic adenovirus results in enhanced oncolytic virotherapy” in Nature.

For the NSF funded project “Mathematical Modeling of the Chemotherapy, Immunotherapy and Vaccine Therapy of Cancer,” de Pillis was principal investigator along with professors Weiqing Gu (HMC) and K. Renee Fister (Murray State University). The project drew on the expertise from the three researchers in the areas of mathematical modeling and computation, differential geometry, and optimal control to develop mathematical tools applied to the creation and testing of new combination cancer chemo-immunotherapies.

Harvey Mudd students assist de Pillis with her research and share co-authorship. Passionate about using mathematics to seek solutions to real-world problems, de Pillis speaks widely about her work. She is currently 2020-2021 Distinguished Lecturer in Mathematics and Statistics at Winona State University (Minnesota) and will present lectures through spring 2021.

De Pillis has been recognized for her multidisciplinary research excellence with the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Distinguished Scholar Award from the Argonne National Laboratory. She is also a HERS-CBL Clare Boothe Luce Leadership in STEM Scholar and is a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society. She received the 2019 MAA Southern California-Nevada Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, given to instructors recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching effectiveness has had an influence beyond their own institutions.