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2016 Biomarkers Across Neurodegenerative Diseases Grant (BAND)

Homo- and Hetero-Aggregates as Biomarkers in Neurodegenerative Disorders

Can a novel method to identify and measure different types of abnormal protein clumps in cerebrospinal fluid improve the detection and diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases?

Dieter Willbold, Ph.D.
Research Centre Juelich
Jülich, Germany


Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, cause the affected person to progressively lose brain function. Though each neurodegenerative disease has unique symptoms and causes, they have some similar features. For example, in both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease normal brain proteins change their shape and clump together. These protein clumps, called aggregates, can damage brain cells and ultimately disrupt brain function.

Research Plan

Dr. Dieter Willbold, Ph.D., and colleagues recently developed a cutting-edge technology called sFIDA (surface-based fluorescence intensity distribution analysis), which allows them to detect very small amounts of protein clumps in body fluids, such as blood or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is the specialized fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. sFIDA uses a laser microscope and specially-made fluorescent labels to identify and measure the abundance and type of protein clumps present in a given fluid sample. This technology can identify multiple types of protein clumps as well as mixed clumps containing more than one type of protein.

Dr. Willbold’s team will use their sFIDA technology to examine CSF from 210 people who have different neurodegenerative disorders. In each individual’s sample, they will test for the presence of several types of protein clumps. The researchers will then determine if different profiles of protein clumps can identify specific neurodegenerative diseases.


The results of these studies may shed new light on the underlying molecular mechanisms that are shared and distinct between different neurodegenerative diseases. These findings will also help determine if protein clumps in CSF can be used as biomarkers to indicate the presence of specific diseases in the brain. Using biomarkers for improved diagnosis will also allow future therapies to be administered as early as possible when they may have the maximum benefit for slowing or halting disease progression.

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