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Ph.D. defence interview - Alexander Svanbergsson

Collge showing Alexander Svanbergsson to the left and his thesis cover on the right.
Alexander Svanbergsson defends his thesis on the 3rd of December.

During his Ph.D. studies, Alexander Svanbergsson has established a modelling system to screen for factors affecting the aggregation of alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease. On the 3rd of December, it is time for him to defend his work supervised by Prof. Jia-Yi Li. Now, Alexander tells us about his research in the research group Neural Plasticity and Repair at MultiPark.

What is your research about?

As the title may tell, I aimed to set up a modelling system that can be used to screen for factors modulating alpha-synuclein aggregation. Alpha-synuclein is a protein whose aggregation is linked to neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease. The pathological accumulation of alpha-synuclein has been known for a long time, but little is known about what is causing it and how to prevent this from happening.

The first step was to visualize the protein aggregation process. Since Professor Sara Linse, also a PI at MultiPark, is my co-supervisor, we had the possibility to produce alpha-synuclein fibrils. In collaboration with her group, I investigated the aggregation of these fibrils in a cell-based system. My results showed that our model system works, and was able to detect alpha-synuclein aggregation with high sensitivity. This system could be helpful to screen for new drugs that may slow down the progression of the disease. By finding out which compounds prevent the aggregation, we can also get clues about the mechanisms that may be involved in the protective effect. With this system, I continued with my thesis project to look into genes that may affect the aggregation of alpha-synuclein.

With new techniques like CRISPR and next-generation sequencing, it is possible to conduct genome-wide screenings to investigate the impact of one gene at a time on outcomes such as alpha-synuclein aggregation. Using these methods, I managed to knock out 19000 genes, one at a time, to create a map of the genetic network affecting protein aggregation. Interestingly, we discovered a few new candidate genes that could be of interest to study deeper.

My thesis work has been an essential step to establishing a model system that many researchers could use. It can be utilized to create new datasets of genetic impacts for bioinformatic analysis. And for drug screening, it is handy as well.

How did you end up at MultiPark?

During my master project at Lundbeck pharmaceuticals, I got interested in pursuing a research education. My supervisors at the time told me about Christian Hansen, who was about to start his own group as a PI at MultiPark. While applying for funding, he gave me the opportunity to try a six-month project in his lab. Unfortunately, Christian already had a Ph.D. student and did not receive enough funding to recruit a second one. Luckily, we collaborated with Jia-Yi Li, another PI at MultiPark, during my projects. And he had enough funding to offer me a Ph.D. project.

What did you like the most during your thesis work at MultiPark?

It is great to belong to an organization that offers so many opportunities to increase your knowledge within neuroscience. During my Ph.D studies, I have tried to attend almost all seminars and talks that have been arranged by MultiPark, like the Frontiers Neuroscience talks and the Neuroscience graduate school’s lunch seminars. Young researchers in MultiPark are also lucky to have the possibility to attend conferences thanks to their travel grants. This economic support made it possible for me to participate in a handful of international meetings that have been extremely rewarding.

What have been the most challenging during your Ph.D.?

Getting the publications out, without any doubt. Not necessarily because of the publication process, but more because I find it hard to know when to close the story instead of building on top of it. Studies are never over. Even if you manage to figure out something, you can always refine your methods, and my results often lead me to new avenues that I could pursue. But that is also what is lovely with research, but it is a challenge to decide where to cut and when to continue.

And the most rewarding?

My supervisor, Jia-Yi Li, has always given me a lot of scientific freedom (which of course also sometimes can be challenging). Being free to decide how to carry out my studies and coming up with new suggestions is very stimulating.

What do you like to do when you are not at work?

Before the pandemic, I spent most of my spare time at the BMC. Together with other young scientists, we organized movie nights, international dinners, and board game nights. I enjoyed the international environment and openness we had, and I hope we can reestablish this. MultiPark’s young researchers working group could have an important role here.

What advice do you want to give to new Ph.D. students?

Get the courses taken as soon as possible. And take the opportunity to present your project and interact with other scientists at international conferences. MultiPark’s travel grant makes it easy to get in touch with researchers around the world. As I said, I have attended many conferences during my Ph.D education, and it usually provides me with new perspectives and a lot of motivation. When coming back, it itches in my fingers to try out these new ideas.

What happens after your defence?

I plan to continue within scientific research as I find it a deeply rewarding pursuit. Getting to examine topics that seem puzzling and piecing together the available information to expand your knowledge is just plain fun.

Alexander Svanbergsson will defend his Ph.D. thesis titled "Modeling and Mechanistic Investigation of Alpha-Synuclein Aggregation" in Lund on Friday 3rd of December at 13:15 in Belfrage (BMC, D15).

Link to the event in the calendar (for more information).

Follow the defence via zoom:

Read the Ph.D. thesis "Modeling and Mechanistic Investigation of Alpha-Synuclein Aggregation"

Fast five with Alexander Svanbergsson


Girlfriend, parents, grandparents, sisters.


Boardgames and programming.

Best time of your day: 

The morning, from getting up and the first few hours until lunch. It is something nice with getting started.

Best conference: 

Synuclein meeting in Greece 2017.

Need help with: 

Access to samples from patients with Synucleinopahties.

Profile photo of Alexander Svanbergsson.

Alexander Svanbergsson

Ph.D. student, at the Neural Plasticity and Repair at LU.

alexander [dot] svanbergsson [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Link to Alexander Svanbergsson's profile in the LU Research Portal

Twitter: @alex_svan