Tell us about your research!
Apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4) is the major genetic risk factor for developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This genetic variant is also fairly common; about 10-15% of the population carries it. My thesis project has focused on investigating how this protein affects cellular alterations early in AD, before the amyloid plaques are seen.
To look into details, I set up a cellular modeling system, where different genetic variants of ApoE are produced in astrocytes. Then, I added these different protein variants into neuronal cultures to observe what was happening.
And what happened then? What is the most important finding you have made during your thesis work?
I discovered that ApoE from astrocytes specifically targets the synaptic terminals of the neurons. This is an important finding since it may help to elucidate early disease-generating mechanisms that could be possible to interfere with to prevent the development of late-onset AD within individuals at risk.
It is quite common to be an ApoE4 carrier. And today, it is easy to get information about your own genotype. Have your insights from this project motivated you to request information about your genotype?
Actually not, nobody in my family has checked the genotype.
How did you end up at MultiPark?
While doing my master in the Netherlands, I wanted to get an international experience during the final degree project. During the course in neuroscience, dementia seemed very interesting to me. Imagine losing your memory, that seemed very dramatic to me, so I wondered why does this happen. Somehow, I found Gunnar Gouras research group and contacted him for doing half a year project. The ApoE fascinated me, and I decided to stay for a Ph.D. project to dig deeper into its nature.
What have you enjoyed the most during your research education at MultiPark?
When starting up my project in our research group, I was the only one looking into ApoE. Therefore, being able to go to conferences has been crucial for my professional development. It is helpful to meet experts in the field and get input on my project. In addition, conferences are also super good for learning new things that you may not come across while looking for papers.
What have been the most challenging aspects of your Ph.D.?
Starting up the ApoE focus in our lab has been exhaustive sometimes. When I came, there was nothing related to ApoE. So I had to get the proper mouse strains and antibodies for staining as well as setting everything up. That took a lot of time. My first two years of Ph.D. was just about optimizing protocols.
And the most rewarding?
This is linked to the challenge of establishing my research line in the lab. Once it was up and running and results started to appear, I felt very proud.
To compare, now, when I am about to defend, there are several people on our floor, both within my group, but also collaborators, that are interesting in ApoE. Based on my experience, I can tell that ApoE is a tricky protein to work with. But as I spent much time in this, I am also familiar with how to deal with it and avoid the most common pitfalls. And I think that is of great help to people on our floor. It is a pleasant feeling, that all the time I spent setting this up will be useful to the field, and knowledge will be transferred and maintained in our environment.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
I enjoy running and used to participate in Lundaloppet. Otherwise, I enjoy hanging out with friends and watching series. Before the pandemic, I spent many evenings just socializing with other young international researchers at the BMC. That is another advantage of being part of MultiPark, I got to know many other Ph.D. students and postdocs in my situation, and we used to organize international dinners together.
What advice do you want to give to new Ph.D. students?
Never give up. Sooner or later during your Ph.D. project, you will run into problems: things that don’t work, negative data, and so on. Try not to see this as lost time, but rather that this is part of your education, to actually learn new things by dealing with things not working as expected. So, don’t worry! In the majority of cases, we all end up with a thesis after all.
What happens after your defence?
I want to do a postdoc, preferably in academia. The plan is to stay another 6-12 months within the MultiPark environment but within another research group to learn something new and prepare for a postdoc. In the longer perspective, my goal is to get a postdoc in the Netherland/Belgium region to get back closer to where I come from.