A New Perspective On Neurodegeneration

Magdalini Polymenidou from the Department of Quantitative Biomedicine at the University of Zurich has received an ERC Consolidator Grant. Together with her team she will employ a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to identify the molecular switches that trigger neurological diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ZNZ News talked to Magdalini Polymenidou about the project entitled “Better understanding neurodegenerative diseases”.

Magdalini Polymenidou, congratulations on the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant. Can you tell us a little more about the upcoming research project: what will it focus on specifically?
Thank you. We are very excited about this opportunity. The project is focused on neurodegenerative diseases associated with the malfunction of a specific protein (TDP-43) that is essential for the health of neurons. These diseases include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which are devastating and incurable. Our project will investigate the molecular triggers causing the initial disturbance of TDP-43 function and how this affects human neurons over time.

The project title is „Better understanding neurodegenerative diseases“. What do you hope to achieve within the next five years?
Over the past years understanding of the detrimental consequences of defective TDP-43 has majorly advanced. Our work will now define the earliest molecular events that lead to TDP-43 malfunction in disease. This is a long-standing question in the field, but our observations offer a new perspective, since they implicate the multifunctional nature of TDP-43. Investigating processes at the fine line between physiology and pathology, we aim to identify the molecular switches that drive TDP-43 into a disease-causing state. Ultimately, we hope that our findings will inspire future therapies.

To be successful, you have to follow a multidisciplinary approach. What exactly are the relevant disciplines and how do you manage to cover the different areas of expertise?
A multidisciplinary approach means that we combine different specializations to address the same problem from different angles and it is the combination of these diverse approaches that makes our project unique and innovative. We achieved this via long-standing collaborations with various expert teams within Zurich and beyond. Over the past years, our team developed all necessary expertise for our project, which ranges from biochemistry and structural biology to neuroscience and bioinformatics.

The Polymenidou Lab is currently looking for a PhD student and a laboratory technician to join the team. If you are interested, check the Lab’s website for more details.