Dr. Kenneth Y. Wertheim, 2020 International Intellectual Benefits to Society Award winner

Dr. Kenneth Y. Wertheim

Dr. Kenneth Y. Wertheim sums up clinicians’ current lack of a systems-level understanding of immunology in one word: “nonlinearity.”

With few direct relationships between its dependent and independent variables, the only constant among the immune system’s physical, chemical, and biological reactions is their unpredictability. Dr. Wertheim wants to upend that paradox by virtually, and holistically, modeling the immune system to simulate its responses to insults.

As a research associate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. Wertheim led a team of researchers to divide and conquer the immune system’s essential mechanisms and devised a novel algorithm to integrate these disparate models over length and time. The virtual immune system project is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

To validate the method, Dr. Wertheim used it to model CD4+ T lymphocytes, a cell type responsible for activating other immune cells. The simulation results agreed with multiple experimental findings and point to novel properties of CD4+ T cells.

“The immediate task is upscaling,” Dr Wertheim said. “Immune cell types other than CD4+ T cells must be modeled to complete the virtual immune system. Once the virtual immune system is complete, there is infinite potential in terms of applications.”

Dr. Wertheim is now a research associate at the Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine at the University of Sheffield, where he is building a cloud-based decision-making platform for the clinical management of malignant solid tumors. From England he remains a consultant on the University of Nebraska project, being directed by Dr. Tomáš Helikar.

The International Intellectual Benefits to Society Award recognizes the application of a Mensan’s intellectual abilities that result in a tangible benefit to society. It may be a single achievement such as an invention, or it may be the cumulative effect of several innovative accomplishments, but it must be shown to have a tangible benefit to a substantial number of people.