Published: 07-11-2017 16:13 | Updated: 20-11-2017 10:56

Swedish research stipend and Japanese scholarship granted to young researcher within mitochondria and Alzheimer’s disease

Nuno Leal i labbet. Foto: Selma Wolofsky

PhD student Nuno Leal, Division of Neurogeriatrics, has been awarded a research stipend worth SEK 350.000 by the Gun and Bertil Stohnes Foundation for research on a better understanding of the role of mitochondria-endoplasmic reticulum (ER) contact sites in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In addition, he has also been granted a JSPS Fellowship for Research in Japan.

Nuno Leal. Foto: Selma Wolofsky“I am honored and grateful to have received these grants. I believe it is very rewarding when your own work and ideas, along with the group’s, are recognized by other researchers, both in Sweden and abroad. These grants will be of fundamental importance to carry out the final parts of my PhD projects. Additionally, receiving grants such as these is a great incentive to develop my research. It allows me the opportunity to travel to and experience a lab in another country, different ideas and methods, and achieve the best results possible for my research project," says Nuno Leal.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It involves the degradation of nerve cells resulting in declining cognition and memory as the disease progresses. Currently, there is no treatment for the disease, only drugs that treat or slow down the symptoms.

Nuno Leal is a PhD student in Maria Ankarcrona’s research group and the aim of his project is to better understand the role of mitochondria-endoplasmic reticulum (ER) contact sites in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Mitochondria-ER contact sites are subcellular regions responsible for regulating several vital cellular processes, such as calcium transfer from ER to mitochondria, amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) – a hallmark of AD – generation and autophagosome formation.

“Interestingly, all these processes are affected in the pathology. Due to the importance of these contacts in AD we hope that our results can help in finding new mechanisms that regulate Aβ and autophagosome formation and identify new possible drug targets,”
Nuno Leal states.

Currently, he and his colleagues are working with two main projects: characterization of these contacts in human brain biopsies and AD mice models; and the characterization of autophagosomes formed at mitochondria-ER contact sites. The Gun and Bertil Stohne´s Research Stipend and the JSPS Fellowship for Research in Japan - in collaboration with STINT - together with the Capstone Award are funding the last mentioned project.

“While the Gun and Bertil Stohnes Foundation stipend will cover the salary for the last year of my PhD, the JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship will allow me to travel to Japan for three months, where I will collaborate with two leaders in the field of autophagy: Professor Tamotsu Yoshimori and Dr. Maho Hamasaki. Professor Yoshimori is a previous associated professor and Dr. Hamasaki a former PhD student of Professor Ohsumi Yoshinobi, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winner of 2016. It is an excellent opportunity for me to work with such prominent experts in the field,” Nuno Leal explains.