PRIZE. Hlin Kvartsberg’s dissertation, where she identifies a new biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease, has been named Sahlgrenska Academy’s 2019 PhD Thesis of the Year.
“It feels amazing! The dissertation is the result of nearly four years of hard work, which I’m very proud of it, so it feels wonderful that it is recognized in this way,” says Hlin Kvartsberg.
What are you most proud of about your dissertation?
“That I’ve been involved in and contributed to Alzheimer’s research by identifying a new biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease. We were the first research team in the world to show that neurogranin was a new possible biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease, and it is incredible that junior researchers have been involved in such a finding. I am also very proud of having conducted almost all the laboratory work myself and having learned many new techniques along the way.”
The award “Thesis of the year at the Sahlgrenska Academy” has been awarded since 2009 and is funded by a donation from the Dr Amt Vestby Research Foundation.
Biomarker for synaptic health
Synapses are connections between nerve cells, where memories are created, transferred and stored. These connections are sensitive and very vulnerable to damage in connection with changes that occur with Alzheimer’s disease. Though it has long been known that damage to synapses causes symptoms like loss of memory and cognitive decline, there was no available biomarker for synaptic health when Hlin Kvartsberg began her doctoral work. In her dissertation, she showed that neurogranin is a new and very useful biomarker for diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have characterized and measured neurogranin with many different methods, which all show that an increased concentration of neurogranin in spinal fluid works as a biomarker for synaptic health. We also show that the biomarker is specific for Alzheimer’s disease, which is important for eliminating other neurodegenerative diseases when diagnosing dementia,” says Hlin Kvartsberg.
Reflects the course of the disease
The biomarker proved useful in identifying individuals with early memory problems that later developed into Alzheimer’s.
“The concentration of neurogranin in both spinal fluid and brain tissue demonstrated a strong correlation with the amount of pathological changes in the brain, which shows that neurogranin most likely reflects the course of the disease.”
Exceptional analytical skills
In his nomination, Erik Portelius, Hlin Kvartsberg’s principal supervisor, writes that as a doctoral student, she demonstrated exceptional analytical skills, and her planning and the scientific conclusions of her experiments were exemplary. Kaj Blennow, who was one of Hlin’s assistant supervisors, also nominated her dissertation, noting that she has conducted her project very competently and that she enthusiastically planned several large studies in connection with other international research teams. In addition to the four articles that made up her dissertation, Hlin Kvartsberg’s work has also contributed to an additional four published articles.
Implemented in the care system
Hlin Kvartsberg continues to be a part of the team for neurochemical pathophysiology and diagnostics but is employed at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. There, she is responsible for working with validating one of the methods she was involved in developing as a doctoral student so that it can be implemented in clinical routines. This means her doctoral work will soon greatly benefit doctors in assessing this patient group and, ultimately, patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Few people have the opportunity to follow a project from the lab and small pilot studies all the way to leading the work of making it available to patients, which it should be this autumn.
That’s a feeling that’s hard to beat!”
Seven prize recipients
Hlin Kvartsberg defended her PhD thesis The postsynaptic protein neurogranin: a new item in the Alzheimer’s disease biomarker toolbox in March 2019.
Akademiliv also congratulates the six other previous doctoral students who have been awarded the prize for the PhD thesis of the year from each department: Joakim Karlsson (Biomedicine), Maria Frånlund (Clinical Sciences), Maria Bygdell (Medicine), Fredrik Hieronymus (Neuroscience and Physiology), Maha El Shahawy (Odontology) and Anna Wessberg (Health and Care Sciences). Well done!
The award ceremony, which was planned for the end of May, has unfortunately been cancelled because of the Coronavirus situation.
TEXT: ELIN LINDSTRÖM