According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes affects over eight percent of the American population, and Type 2 diabetes is now considered an epidemic.
Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics
Dr. Richard Bertram develops mathematical models for endocrine and nerve cells. One focus area of his research is pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that secrete insulin. Insulin is used by other cells of the body, to uptake the sugar glucose from the blood. Type 2 diabetes occurs when either the beta cells stop functioning properly, or when the target tissues become insensitive to insulin. Bertram's long-term goal is to use mathematical modeling to help understand the development of Type 2 diabetes.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes affects over eight percent of the American population, and Type 2 diabetes is now considered an epidemic. Type 2 diabetes, once referred to as "adult onset diabetes," now affects such a large population of children and young adults diagnosed that the term "adult onset" is a thing of the past. Another type of diabetes, Type 1, is much more rare, and more severe. In Type 1 diabetes the body's immune system destroys the beta cells, so the patient must receive insulin injections several times during the day in order to stay alive.
Pancreatic beta cells, as well as many other hormone-secreting cells, produce bursts of electrical impulses that result in the secretion of insulin. As a result, the level of insulin in the blood oscillates. This oscillation is important for the normal processing of glucose by the body. In fact, loss of oscillatory insulin levels is one indicator of Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Bertram's interest is in understanding how insulin oscillations occur. This requires the development of accurate models of beta cells (a biophysical topic) and analysis of bursting oscillations and oscillator synchronization (mathematical topics). With funding from the National Science Foundation, Bertram and his team are striving to understand how beta cells work, so that they can understand the various pathways to Type 2 diabetes.
Bertram began his research on diabetes during a post-doctoral fellowship at the Mathematical Research Branch, NIDDK, NIH from 1993 to 1996. There he forged a partnership with Artie Sherman, who is also a mathematical modeler. In 1999 Bertram and Sherman added to the team Les Satin, an experimentalist who studies beta cells in the laboratory. Bertram and Sherman are organizing a workshop on "Endocrine Physiology: Type 2 Diabetes, Metabolism, and Obesity" that will take place at the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at the Ohio State University in the spring of 2007. This is the first such workshop that brings together mathematical modelers, laboratory scientists, and clinical scientists with an aim of better understanding the development of diabetes.