"Mathematics is biology's next microscope, only better." That's what the scientist Joel E Cohen once said of the power of mathematics to revolutionise biology and the biomedical sciences. And he was right. Maths enables scientists to understand complex organisms and diseases, it's crucial in developing sophisticated medical technology and materials, and we can even use it to model our psyche and intelligence. In this sense maths has become a genuine research instrument for biomedical sciences. The insight it gives them are on a par with the revolutionising power of the microscope.
How do you judge the risks and benefits of new medical treatments, or of lifestyle choices? With a finite health care budget, how do you decide which treatments should be made freely available on the NHS? Historically, decisions like these have been made on the basis of doctors' individual experiences with how these treatments perform, but over recent decades the approach to answering these
questions has become increasingly rational.
One of the greatest advances in the biomedical sciences has been the unravelling of our genetic code. This new understanding sheds light on what makes organisms function and how they are related to each other, helps to combat diseases, and to convict criminals. But it also poses great mathematical challenges: the genetic revolution is an information explosion which can only be tamed using mathematical methods.