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2005-2006 HIGHLIGHTS








Cover of the 2006 Annual Report
Annual Report

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Cover of the 2006 College Directory
College Directory

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Stephen Wright, Michael Ferris, Stephen Robinson, Andrew Miller, Olvi Mangasarian and Robert Meyer.

From left: Members of the UW-Madison optimization team include Professors Stephen Wright, Michael Ferris, Stephen Robinson, Assistant Professor Andrew Miller, and Computer Sciences Professor Emeritus Olvi Mangasarian and Professor Robert Meyer. (Large image)

Industrial and Systems Engineering

Math to the rescue: Optimization team tames complex problems

Placing radioactive seeds in a tumor, predicting traffic flow, scheduling flight crews, and maximizing profit and productivity are all challenges with complex variables. Tackling this type of problem is the specialty of computer scientists and industrial and systems engineers on the UW-Madison optimization team. In their research, optimization specialists develop algorithms for these and other types of optimization problems, study their mathematical properties and practical performance, implement them in high-quality software, and apply them to practical problems, including some of the aforementioned applications. In solving optimization problems, the team aims to find the values of the variables in a system that optimize the performance of that system (in the sense of maximizing or minimizing some mathematical function), while satisfying certain constraints that are imposed by the nature of the problem (where the constraints are also defined by mathematical functions).

A new approach to making life and death decisions

People in need of a liver transplant are often given just one hour to decide whether to accept a particular donor liver when it is offered. To make this difficult choice, they rely on the intuition and experience of their surgeons. But the decision is so complex, it could benefit from a more systematic approach.

“The timing of these decisions is very complicated and involves a lot of uncertainty. There is uncertainty in the future of the patient’s health. And there is uncertainty in the organ offer because you don’t know if you will receive a better organ offer tomorrow or the day after,” says Assistant Professor Oguzhan Alagoz.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages the distribution of donor livers in the United States. Two thousand patients die each year before a suitable organ is found. Even so, patients, on the advice of their surgeons, decline organs about half of the time and continue to wait. As a result, five to six percent of donor livers are wasted.

Alagoz used a technique called the Markov decision process to analyze the problem from the patient’s point of view. Using information on organ quality and clinical data from end-stage liver patients, such as age and blood type, he was able to calculate exactly how long a patient should wait for a donor liver, and whether he or she should accept a particular organ. Oguzhan Alagoz says his models are a starting point for a larger dialog about liver allocation.

Website helps Spanish-speaking women fight cancer

The UW-Madison Center of Excellence In Cancer Communications Research, led by Research Professor David Gustafson, has launched a comprehensive new website to help Spanish-speaking women with breast cancer and their families. The new Spanish-language site called, “Conviviendo con el Cancer de Seno,” is a cultural and linguistic translation of the existing online resource called the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (CHESS) “Living with Breast Cancer” program.

Previous research has consistently shown that this program improves outcomes for English-speaking breast cancer patients, particularly the underserved. The effort to translate the program into Spanish was managed by ISyE graduate student Susana Torres-Corona and principal investigator Bret Shaw.

A multinational team from Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela conducted the translation with expert guidance from the Dane County Latino Health Council.

National partners, including the National Latino Cancer Research Network and the Center for Patient Partnerships, provided additional Latina-specific content. Funding for the project was made available by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment and the National Cancer Institute. For more information, visit

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