Prof. Natal van Riel starts new project on computer simulation of the human metabolism

Recently, a NWO grant was awarded to the TU Eindhoven, Maastricht Center for Systems Biology and partners for a project focused on unraveling the workings of the human metabolism. With this computer model the researchers aim to gain new insight into the relation between nutrition, exercise and health. Professor Computational Modelling Natal van Riel of the department of Biomedical Engineering will concentrate on making a model that is realistic for daily life, containing regular meals of varying composition and the effects of exercise.

Current computer simulation models of the human metabolism aim mainly at the dynamics of blood sugar values after a meal. Often these are not actual meals from daily life, but the models describe the intake of a meal replacement shake on a sober stomach. In this project, the researchers want to make the model more realistic for the daily life: the usual, multiple meals a day and with a varying composition. 

Next to sugars, the main components of our nutrition are fats and proteins / amino acids. Modelling of the digestion, intake and conversion of fats has been a point of research in the group of Natal van Riel for some time (e.g. in the RESOLVE project, in collaboration with Amsterdam Medical Centre). The metabolism of amino acids is a new aspect. Certain types of amino acids (branched-chain amino acids) recently received attention in relation to Diabetes (type 2) because they are associated with insulin resistance (pre-diabetes). Furthermore, there have been discoveries that a protein-rich diet could have a positive effect on overweight associated (pre)diabetes. With the computer model the researchers aim to get new insight into this complex interaction between nutrition and health.

Moreover a recommended, healthy lifestyle is a combination of healthy nutrition and exercise. Therefore the model will contain the (visible and measureable) effect of exercise (different types and intensities of the training) on the blood sugar before and after a meal.

The models will be validated with experimental data which will be generated in the other projects in the same program by partners in e.g. Maastricht and Wageningen.

The grant was appointed to the NWO / TIFN program ‘System Approaches for Food and Nutrition’ within which Natal van Riel will work together with Maastricht Center for Systems Biology, MaCSBio, on the project called: ‘Metabolic modelling of postprandial glucose dynamics and its modulation by diet and physical activity: the role of amino acids’. Natal van Riel Natal van Riel received his Master’s degree from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in 1995. In 2000 he obtained a PhD degree in Molecular Cell Biology from Utrecht University for research on integrating computational modeling and experimental work to study complex biochemical networks. In 2003 he was appointed as assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at TU/e and initiated Systems Biology research in Eindhoven. This research was expanded when he joined the research group Computational Biology (Prof. Hilbers) to lead the Computational Systems Biology research program, investigating complex, multi-factorial human diseases. His research expertise includes mathematical modelling, identification (parameter estimation) and analysis (sensitivity analysis) of biological systems. In 2015, van Riel was appointed as part time professor Computational Modelling at the Faculty of Medicine (AMC) of the University of Amsterdam (UvA).