What is your research about?
My thesis work consists of two different parts. In the first part, we compare clinical classifications and individual levels of a blood biomarker for the long-term outcome of Parkinson’s disease in an observational cohort. The second part looks into families with genetic forms of Parkinsonism and cognitive dysfunction.
In the longitudinal studies, we compared two different clinical classification systems in Parkinson’s disease patients. One is a traditional classification system only focusing on motor symptoms, while the other is newer, also including non-motor symptoms such as cognitive function and sleep disturbances. We could see that the rating scale including non-motor problems was superior in predicting outcomes such as developing dementia, moving into a nursing home, or even time to death. We also examined the use of neurofilament light chain as a blood biomarker. Taken together, the results indicate that both biochemical and clinical rating scales may serve as suitable components for developing a prognostic tool to predict severe outcomes in earlier stages of the disease. This is an area which I believe will develop rapidly within the near future, resulting in clear improvements for patients with Parkinson’s disease.
For the second part, we identified a handful of previously unknown candidate genes that may cause familial Parkinson’s disease and studied the clinical disease of individuals with a specific tau mutation. I think this is very interesting since it opens for translational approaches investigating potential mechanisms in animal and cellular models.
How did you end up at MultiPark?
Already during the neurology practice of my education, I got in touch with Andreas Puschmann. He offered me to do a masters project in his group, and then I continued with my thesis project.
What did you like the most during your thesis work at MultiPark?
I found the Frontiers in neuroscience seminars very valuable as they offer in-depth discussions. The lunch seminars arranged by the neuroscience graduate school have also been a good way for clinical and experimental Ph.D. students to meet, even though I think the format could be improved to facilitate interaction. One way of doing that would be to set a theme for each seminar and then invite students from experimental and clinically oriented groups to present their aspects on that theme.
What have been the most challenging during your Ph.D.?
The statistics! Without any doubt! Even after taking courses, it is still difficult to manage in terms of choosing the right way to design your project and handle the data optimally. It feels like you are supposed to have a lot more knowledge in this already from day one. Being a MultiPark member, I was lucky to have access to statistical support via their infrastructures, which helped a lot in the study design. Also, being married to a PhD that answered advanced questions about statistics during the work with the studies, was extremely valuable.
And the most rewarding?
I find it very stimulating to get in-depth knowledge in one field about a specific group of patients, even though I am not a neurologist. With my wider perspective from clinical work in primary healthcare, it is more normal for me to zoom out and grasp the bigger perspectives. The contrast to this made it more rewarding, I think, to focus and learn many details about Parkinson’s disease.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
I like most physical activities, like running, fencing, and climbing. Music is another hobby I enjoy, usually by singing in a choir and playing the piano.
What advice do you want to give to new Ph.D. students?
Even if you have a particular research question, it tends to expand with time, so you also have to consider other, nearby research areas. But eventually, you will need to condense it all into a coherent thesis. Therefore, it is wise to aim for a detailed research question to define exactly what you will investigate. The earlier you specify this, the easier it will be to keep the focus.
What happens after your defence?
As I moved with my family to Stockholm during the pandemic, I already started to establish contacts with research groups at the Karolinska Institute. The idea is to try a postdoc and find out how to combine my research engagement with my clinical work. The mix between research and taking care of patients is very motivating to me, so the goal is to get a position where I can continue to get the best of both worlds.