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Title: Application of software engineering methodologies to the development of mathematical biological models
Author: Gill, Mandeep Singh
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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Mathematical models have been used to capture the behaviour of biological systems, from low-level biochemical reactions to multi-scale whole-organ models. Models are typically based on experimentally-derived data, attempting to reproduce the observed behaviour through mathematical constructs, e.g. using Ordinary Differential Equations (ODEs) for spatially-homogeneous systems. These models are developed and published as mathematical equations, yet are of such complexity that they necessitate computational simulation. This computational model development is often performed in an ad hoc fashion by modellers who lack extensive software engineering experience, resulting in brittle, inefficient model code that is hard to extend and reuse. Several Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) exist to aid capturing such biological models, including CellML and SBML; however these DSLs are designed to facilitate model curation rather than simplify model development. We present research into the application of techniques from software engineering to this domain; starting with the design, development and implementation of a DSL, termed Ode, to aid the creation of ODE-based biological models. This introduces features beneficial to model development, such as model verification and reproducible results. We compare and contrast model development to large-scale software development, focussing on extensibility and reuse. This work results in a module system that enables the independent construction and combination of model components. We further investigate the use of software engineering processes and patterns to develop complex modular cardiac models. Model simulation is increasingly computationally demanding, thus models are often created in complex low-level languages such as C/C++. We introduce a highly-efficient, optimising native-code compiler for Ode that generates custom, model-specific simulation code and allows use of our structured modelling features without degrading performance. Finally, in certain contexts the stochastic nature of biological systems becomes relevant. We introduce stochastic constructs to the Ode DSL that enable models to use Stochastic Differential Equations (SDEs), the Stochastic Simulation Algorithm (SSA), and hybrid methods. These use our native-code implementation and demonstrate highly-efficient stochastic simulation, beneficial as stochastic simulation is highly computationally intensive. We introduce a further DSL to model ion channels declaratively, demonstrating the benefits of DSLs in the biological domain. This thesis demonstrates the application of software engineering methodologies, and in particular DSLs, to facilitate the development of both deterministic and stochastic biological models. We demonstrate their benefits with several features that enable the construction of large-scale, reusable and extensible models. This is accomplished whilst providing efficient simulation, creating new opportunities for biological model development, investigation and experimentation.
Supervisor: Gavaghan, David; McKeever, Steve Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Computer science (mathematics) ; Mathematical biology ; Ordinary differential equations ; Program development and tools ; Software engineering ; Biology and other natural sciences (mathematics) ; domain specific languages ; mathematical modelling ; biological modelling ; cardiac modelling