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Prize-worthy: cross-border diagnosis research for Parkinson’s patients

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Published on Tuesday, 15 January 2019

A German-Luxembourgish team of researchers from the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg and the University of Saarland today received the second prize in the competition “Excellent Networks in the Greater Region”. The jury of the Interregional Science Prize bestowed this honour to their project which uses so-called biomarkers to create new approaches for early detection of Parkinson’s disease.

Interregional research prize

The prize is worth 10,000 euros, donated by SaarLB. “We are honoured at this special acknowledgement of our work,” says Prof. Rejko Krüger, head of the Clinical & Experimental Neuroscience Group at LCSB and one of the distinguished researchers. “For one thing, it provides strong support for our work. But the prize can also make people in the Greater Region aware of the real medical advancements we are making for the patients, here and across national borders.”

The Interregional Science Prize was first offered in 2003 with the aim of reinforcing scientific cooperation and networking as well as the profile of the scientific region of Saar, Lothringia, Luxembourg, Rhineland Palatinate, Wallonia and the French/German-speaking community of Belgium, both internally and externally. It is awarded every two years during the Conference of Ministers of the Greater Region.

Bringing together clinical research and bioinformatics

The award-winning research project brings together the specialised scientific knowledge of various research disciplines held in different regions that, only when combined, will be of true benefit for making medical breakthroughs. Rejko Krüger heads the team leading the Luxembourg Parkinson’s study “NCER-PD”, in which scientists of LCSB, the Luxemburg Institute of Health (LIH), the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL), the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL) and the Laboratoire National de Santé (LNS) are involved. NCER-PD collects and analyses tissue samples and data from Parkinson’s patients as well as samples from healthy control people for comparison. The aim is to improve the early detection of Parkinson’s and the treatment of those afflicted.

The Saarland partner, sharing the award, is the team led by Prof. Andreas Keller. Keller is the head of the “Clinical Informatics” workgroup in the Medical Faculty of the University of Saarland. He intends to use molecules present in blood as biomarkers for diagnosing diseases in the earliest possible stages. “Micro-RNAs are highly suitable for this,” says Keller: “They are short segments of specific molecules that play an important role in controlling genes.”

Use of biomarkers for early diagnosis

The percentages of different micro-RNAs found in the blood depend on a person’s state of health. The researchers of LCSB have a very precise understanding of the latter in relation to the development of Parkinson’s disease. “At the annual check-up which is part of the study, we take regular blood samples from our patients that can also be tested for their micro-RNA content,” Krüger explains. “So far, however, we have never had any biomarkers that can tell us about the stage of the disease.”

This is where Keller’s expertise comes in: “As clinical bioinformaticians, we have already developed special algorithms for other diseases, such as cancer. We can use these to identify, out of the total content, those micro-RNAs that indicate the onset of the disease with certainty – and can therefore be of diagnostic importance.”

It is precisely this approach that they have now translated to Parkinson’s disease in the scope of the German-Luxembourg cooperation – and can present their first successes, as Andreas Keller relates: “We have already identified a number of promising micro-RNAs on the computer. Further calculations will continue to narrow the circle down to those potential molecules that can actually be used as biomarkers in future clinical diagnoses. The related papers will be published soon.”

“We are pleased that our new interdisciplinary approach to the development of biomarkers for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and the feasibility we have demonstrated have been honoured with the Interregional Science Prize,” Rejko Krüger declares. “We will now continue working intensively to ensure that our research benefits the people as quickly as possible in hospitals and medical practices.”

© University of Luxembourg