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ICS-6 scientists receive funding to study commonalities of neurodegenerative diseases

Jülich/Düsseldorf, 19 November 2015 – Scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich's ICS-6 have received a two-year grant from the international BAND initiative, which aims to stimulate research across neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Within the project, potential interactions between disease-specific protein aggregates will be explored, which could serve to provide biomarkers for an earlier and more reliable diagnosis. The study will make use of the innovative analytic method sFIDA, which the scientists had previously developed for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The sFIDA technology was showcased this week at MEDICA 2015 in Düsseldorf. North-Rhine Westfalia’s Minister for Innovation, Science and Research Svenja Schulze visited the scientists to learn more about the project.

In recent years it has been found that neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s often share overlapping symptoms, making it at times difficult to differentiate them from one another when posing a clinical diagnosis. New laboratory tests that measure protein aggregates as specific disease biomarkers could enable a much earlier and more reliable detection. However, the observed symptom overlap itself may be rooted in unknown interactions between different disease-related aggregate forms. Four leading international research funding organisations — the U.S.-based Alzheimer's Association and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, the Weston Brain Institute in Canada, and Alzheimer's Research UK — have therefore jointly established the initiative Biomarkers Across Neurodegenerative Diseases (BAND), which supports projects aiming to elucidate these molecular links that possibly connect different brain deteriorating disorders.

Among the recipients of one of the grants (maximum $150,000 over two years) from the initiative is a team headed by Prof. Dieter Willbold and Dr. Oliver Bannach at Jülich’s Institute of Complex Systems, Structural Biochemistry (ICS-6). Previously, the scientists had already established a method called sFIDA for a biomarker-based diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. sFIDA uses fluorescent markers to make the aggregates visible under a fluorescence microscope and quantifies them as a disease biomarker. In an ongoing project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, sFIDA is currently being optimized and validated for potential clinical use.

A unique feature of sFIDA is that it does not only allow counting of aggregates but also makes it possible to analyse their exact composition. In the newly funded project, the sFIDA technology will be used to measure several other types of protein aggregates occurring in various neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and ALS.

"We will specifically screen patient samples for the presence of pure and hybrid aggregates, which are composed of two or more disease-related protein species", Prof. Willbold explains. "This could bring us closer to well-defined biomarkers to allow differential diagnostics and improve our understanding of the interactions at the molecular level."

At the World Forum for Medicine, the MEDICA 2015 (16. - 19. November) in Düsseldorf, the ICS-6 currently presents the sFIDA method. The stand was visited by NRW’s Minister for Innovation, Science and Research Svenja Schulze, who informed herself on the progress the project has made since her last visit 12 months ago.

Stand auf der Medicafrom the left: Dr. Tuyen Bujnicki (ICS-6), Dr. Andrea Mahr (unit Technology Transfer), Dr. Dagmar Jürgens and Prof. Dieter Willbold (ICS-6) with NRW science minister Svenja Schulze at the stand of Forschungszentrum Jülich.
Copyright: MIWF/Rainer Hotz

Further Information:

Institute of Complex Systems, Structural Biochemistry (ICS-6)

Research on Alzheimer's Disease at Forschungszentrum Jülich


Prof. Dr. Dieter Willbold
Institute of Complex Systems, Structural Biochemistry (ICS-6)
Tel.: +49 2461 61-2100

Press Contact:

Peter Zekert, Science Journalist
Institute of Complex Systems, Structural Biochemistry (ICS-6)
Tel.: +49 2461 61-9711