What is your role within the ADAPTED Project?
I am co-leader of Work Package 3 which is exploring APOE and neurodegeneration. Our overall aim is to identify or validate the role of the APOE gene in the development of Alzheimer's disease to enable target identification and biomarker discovery.
Tell us a bit more about the ErasmusMC and what they do.
ErasmusMC is one of the two largest medical centres in the Netherlands. It hosts the Rotterdam Study, which is one of the oldest follow-up studies targeting Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. During the project, I moved from one of the youngest universities in the Netherlands to one of the oldest ones in the Europe: Oxford University. At present, I work at the Big Data Institute, integrating genetic, microbiome, proteomic and metabolic data of large epidemiological studies and preventive trials with that of neuroimaging and cellular models.
What have been some of the biggest achievements/breakthroughs so far in the project?
Sven van der Lee was able to discover and replicate metabolites that circulate in the blood and predict future AD and dementia. Shahzad Ahmad was able to connect the dots between metabolites that circulate in the blood stream and the ones that are found in the CSF. And between the metabolites in the circulation that Sven found and the genes determining the disease. These findings suggest we have identified the long awaited blood based biomarkers for pathology in the brain.
What excites you most about the project?
Discovering the early and late molecular signature of APOE that lead to Alzheimer disease. We are aiming to discover which cell types in the brain are relevant for the development of AD and will be able to connect the molecular signatures in the cells to molecular signatures in the blood and CSF.
What are your expectations for ADAPTED
Soon we will obtain insight in the molecular changes across cell types in the brain that are related to APOE. This is a huge leap forward towards answering the question how APOE leads to Alzheimer disease in humans.
What are your hopes for the future treatment of Alzheimer’s disease?
That we can prevent and postpone AD and halt the disease in an early phase of pathology. First, delaying the process 5-10 years in the near future, hopefully up to 20 years later.
What do you think EU collaborative research projects have to offer?
It yields a platform to do research at a scale that is lacking nationally as well as a platform for senior and junior researchers to brain storm on how to hack the molecular processes to drive disease and health. IMI specifically combines the intelligence of academia with that of different pharmaceutical companies. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked!