Laura Baumgartner (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) won the VPHi Best Thesis Award in In Silico Medicine and presented her research work during the VPHi 2022 plenary Award Ceremony.
The VPHi Best Thesis Award in In Silico Medicine rewards individuals for outstanding achievements during their PhD thesis based on knowledge gap, methodological approach, research outputs and international integration.
This year, the award committee assigned the award to Laura Baumgartner for her thesis entitled "Digging into Biologically-Driven Injury Mechanisms in the Intervertebral Disc - An Evidence-Based Network Modelling Approach to Estimate Cell Dynamics within Complex Multicellular Systems".
The aim of the project was to develop a methodology that estimates cell responses of multicellular systems with complex, heterogeneous stimulus environments. The need for this study emerged from the requirement to better understand the dynamics leading to intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration, contextualized in relevant physical and biochemical environments that may develop in the IVD tissues, in vivo. IVD failure is assumed to start with adverse cell responses due to an adverse stimulus environment, which subsequently leads to small tissue injuries that accumulate over time, in a mechanism referred to as “biologically-driven” injury.
The developed methodology consists of several sub-methods to convert high-level experimental data into mathematical parameters, allowing to integrate the information of individual experimental findings to finally approximate cell responses to complex stimulus environments. Thereby, each cell response is considered as an individual network; on the one hand, many parallel operating networks are required to describe multiple cell responses of different cell states, on the other hand, the time-dependent cell responses to chronic stimulus environments needs to be considered. The proposed methodology integrates such requirements and was named time-dependent Parallel Networks Methodology (PNt-Methodology).
Results were qualitatively validated by evaluating cell responses to different activities such as walking, jogging, sitting or a six-months stay in space. The ordinary differential equation-based approach, allows for predictions over long periods of time under low computational workload. Together with its generic and scalable design, the PNt-Methodology is a novel approach aiming to contribute to a better understanding of biologically-driven injury mechanisms in slowly developing diseases.
“I feel deeply honored for having won the 2022 VPHi Best Thesis Award and I would like to wholeheartedly thank the community for this distinguished recognition - said Laura upon receiving the award - This is an amazing feedback for this novel interpretation of cell dynamics, where the focus is set on what a cell is doing, rather than on how a cell is doing a certain action. I admit that the way of thinking is rather different from other systems biology approaches, and I profoundly appreciate that distinguished scientists took the time to dive into this different mindset to evaluate my work. I hope that my PhD work can positively contribute to the objectives of the VPHi community, and I would be happy to get in touch with anyone who is interested in this novel approach.”