Nearly five years ago, biology and physiology professor Kenneth Rodnick began researching diabetes and the chemical processes involved in diabetes. However, as a professor of biology, Rodnick soon discovered he would need a helping hand in completing his research.
Rodnick then approached Robert Holman, a chemistry professor, to assist him in the chemical aspects of the research. Despite Holman’s initial joking claim that biologists study topics that are “too complicated,” he agreed to partner with Rodnick.
“Neither of us had enough expertise to approach the problem alone,” Holman said. “It required more biology than I as a chemist knew and more chemistry than he as a biologist knew.”
Throughout the last five years, Holman and Rodnick’s extensive research involved a number of experiments and assistance from between 20 and 30 student researchers, which culminated in the publication of a paper, titled “A Perspective on Reagent Diversity and Non-covalent Binding of Reactive Carbonyl Species and Effector Reagents in Non-enzymatic Glycation: Mechanistic Considerations and Implications for Future Research,” in the journal Frontier Chemistry in late June of this year.
The paper was co-authored by Mingdong Huang, a researcher from Fuzhou University in China, Arthur L.M. Swislocki, a M.D. from UC Davis and Pamela Ropski, an undergraduate ISU student who worked closely with Rodnick and Holman for nearly her entire student career.
“It was a combination of lucky timing and hard work and dedication that allowed me to be brought into a leadership on the project early on,” Ropski, who is now attending University of Utah School of Medicine, said. She added that she was working on the project as a biochemistry student, but the experience of integrating medicine and clinical perspectives with the scientific research was invaluable to her as a future medical school student.
Rodnick and Holman also stressed the importance of the research for the futures of the students involved as well as the unique opportunity the project created to bring together researchers from a number of disciplines.
“With most diseases, we study it from different angles and perspectives,” Rodnick said. “That I think was the unique part of our team.”
Although Rodnick said the ultimate end goal of the study is to increase understanding in how glucose leads to diseases or complications in diabetes, he added that that was not the only thing accomplished by the paper’s publication.
“We see a major product of our research is the student,” Holman said. “They’re doing every facet of the research.”
The research and experiments done by students mainly involved studying the way glucose interacts with and modifies proteins. However, as the project continued, Holman and Rodnick both said almost more questions arose from the results than were answered by them, as the problem was more complicated and involved more molecules than many previously thought.
Their paper puts forth a perspective on the results of their study in addition to proposing opportunities for future research.
However, their paper is only one in a recent surge of studies being done on diabetes, which has become a booming problem in the U.S. 30.3 million Americans are diabetic, incurring total costs of diabetes and prediabetes of upwards of $300 billion. In Idaho, 90,000 adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, a number that has doubled within the last 20 years.
“It’s a medical problem, it’s a monetary problem, and it taxes our medical community hugely,” Rodnick said.
Rodnick and Holman both emphasized that while their work was beneficial, it was merely a “bucket of water in an ocean of research.”
But for the students involved, including Ropski, the experience of working on the project was highly significant.
“I know what it’s like to start a project from scratch and figure it all out,” Ropski said. “Going through the whole process from the beginning was a really, really meaningful experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else but ISU.”