Mathematical aspects of protein lifecycle

​Valentina Fermanelli contributes to the development and validation of a mathematical framework to study the lifecycle of apolipoproteins. These proteins are regulators of triglyceride levels, which are important risk factors of cardiovascular diseases, the first cause of death in the world today.

Mathematics applied to solve real-world problemsBiomathematics is an interdisciplinary subject strongly increasing with the development of new algorithms that can be used in new computer software. It describes biological processes in mathematical terms to frame and solve otherwise unsolvable research questions in biology and medicine. Apolipoprotein kinetics is one of the processes that are only possible to study thanks to mathematical modelling.

The effects of fructose on lipid metabolism

In her PhD thesis, Valentina has analysed time series data generated from three experiments with a nonlinear mixed effects modelling framework, where the individuals are considered as a sample of a larger population and the statistical model is already embedded in the parameter situation. One of the datasets studied concerns a fructose intervention in abdominally obese individuals. Since many people today drink fructose-containing soda, the effect of such consumptions on lipid metabolism is an important question. By studying how fast the apolipoproteins are formed and released in the blood and how fast they are removed, the knowledge on lipid metabolism is enhanced. One of the results of the thesis, due to the combination of apolipoprotein and lipoprotein kinetic data, uncovers the cause of why hypercaloric fructose leads to increase in triglyceride levels in the blood.

Valentina FermanelliValentina has a double master’s degree in applied mathematics from Università degli Studi di Camerino in Italy and Technische Universität Clausthal in Germany. It was in Germany that she really discovered applied mathematics, and came to love the fact that abstract mathematics can solve real-world problems through modelling and simulations.

– I started looking for a PhD project, and when I saw the one in Gothenburg I thought “this is made for me!” After I came back from the second interview I asked my mother, who is a primary school teacher and had been to Sweden through work, what the country was like. She told me about children playing in the snow and that both boys and girls learnt wood craft in school, well that was fascinating!

Developing not only as a scientist

There is much that Valentina has liked about her PhD studies, such as the beautiful work environments and the many wonderful people in the department that have made her feel at home. She also mentions the way PhD students are treated where you can call your supervisor by name, be represented in different committees and where the hierarchies overall are low. And she really liked the GTS (General and Transferable Skills) courses that develop the participants not only as scientists but as persons as well. During her PhD studies she has had the opportunity to visit Japan for ten months in total and work with people in similar research fields. She is grateful for her time here in the Mathematical Sciences department that has opened many doors.

But it can also be a struggle to be a PhD student, and to cope Valentina has used EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and laughter yoga. She wants to let more people know these techniques, so she will soon after her thesis defence start a course in laughter yoga at a yoga centre here in Gothenburg. Her dream now is to study the effects of these techniques, through mathematical models of course! That the thesis defence has to be online due to corona restrictions has its advantages, now family and friends from all over the world can easily join.

Valentina Fermanelli will defend her PhD thesis “Mathematical aspects of apolipoprotein kinetics, with focus on metabolic diseases” on June 15 at 13.15 via Zoom. Supervisor is Martin Adiels, Sahlgrenska Academy.

Text: Setta Aspström
Photo: private
Picture: Valentina Fermanelli, Simplified description of how mathematics is applied to solve real-world problems, such as biological and medical ones

Published: Tue 09 Jun 2020.