Friday, July 22, 2011

Alan Alda, Marie Curie, and an Update on Our Work on Supply Chains in Health Care

Problems to research are all around us -- now more than ever.

All that one has to do to identify the important and interesting problems in order to help make the world a better place, is to keep one's eyes open and to observe; to read a lot -- news, journal articles, and books; to communicate with others, through both local forums, as with students and colleagues, through conferences, email, social networking, etc., and to experience life. Travel helps, as well, in order to view the world outside of the silos and to better understand what are the major issues.

Successful research, however, requires incredible focus, dedication, and passion, and a book that captures the life of an amazing researcher and scientist, like no other, is Madame Curie, a biography of Marie Curie, written by her daughter, Eve Curie. I decided to read this beautiful biography of Marie Curie this summer, after hearing that Alan Alda (yes, of M*A*S*H* and other fame) had written a play about her that was performed at this year's World Science Festival (WSF) in early June in NYC. Coincidentally, Alda, also around that time, even managed to give a commencement address at a local prep school in our area, from which his granddaughter was graduating.

I feel as though Madame Curie was inspiring me throughout this summer, with a nudge from Alan Alda who loves science and has been an active proponent of the WSF (I had the terrific experience of speaking on the Traffic panel at the 2009 WSF). The WSF is the brainchild of Dr. Brian Greene, a renowned physicist at Columbia University, and his wife, the journalist, Tracy Day.

This summer, coincidentally, after purchasing the Curie biography, I became absolutely fascinated by medical nuclear supply chains and the shock that the US has not even been producing nor processing the most commonly used radioisotope for cancer and heart diagnostics led me to do research on this critical supply chain. But, I needed a collaborator who was skilled in the underlying physics and, luckily, my husband has a PhD in physics, with a concentration in low temperature experimental physics, and we needed to get the news out, which we did through an Op-Ed piece, along with the paper, Medical Nuclear Supply Chain Design: A Tractable Network Model and Computational Approach, Anna Nagurney and Ladimer S. Nagurney, which I will be presenting at a conference at McGill University in Montreal next week.

As noted in our paper, since molybdenum decays with a 66.7 hour half-life, approximately 99.9% of the atoms decay in 27.5 days, making its production, transportation, and processing all extremely time-sensitive. In fact, its production is quantified in Six-day curies end of processing denoting the activity of the sample 6 days after it was irradiated to highlight this (and, yes, named after the Curies). Note that not only did Marie Curie receive a Nobel prize but she actually received 2, in Physics and in Chemistry, and shared the former prize with her husband, Pierre Curie, and with Becquerel.
In our nuclear medical supply chain paper, we needed a theoretical result (our model is a generalized network optimization model in which the arc multipliers capture the various losses due to radioactive decay, etc.) in order to be able to obtain an elegant formulation for analysis and computations. Propitiously, and this also speaks to passion as being a necessary condition for good research, one of my doctoral students, who is very interested in health care, and another doctoral student, who is researching time-sensitive product supply chains, began working on blood supply chains.

Our paper, Supply Chain Network Operations Management of a Blood Banking System with Cost and Risk Minimization, Anna Nagurney, Amir H. Masoumi, and Min Yu, has now been accepted in the journal, Computational Management Science, and it contains a result that we needed in both in our medical nuclear supply chain modeling work as well as in a followon paper, Supply Chain Network Design of a Sustainable Blood Banking System, Anna Nagurney and Amir H. Masoumi, to appear in Sustainable Supply Chains: Models, Methods and Public Policy Implications, T. Boone, V. Jayaraman, and R. Ganeshan, Editors, Springer, London, England, 2011.

On an ending note, Marie and Pierre Curie's other daughter, Irene Curie, and her husband, also were awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry. Amazing accomplishments and among members of two generations of a family.