In our latest partner profile, we speak with Charlotte Teunissen, Professor of Neurochemistry at Amsterdam University Medical Center. Professor Teunissen has dedicated her career to identifying, studying and validating biomarkers for neurodegenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.
Read on to find out more about Charlotte's work in EPND, her career path to date, and what she enjoys about working in EPND.
Hi Charlotte! Could you tell us about your research career to date?
I’ve been fascinated by biomarkers for neurological diseases since the start of my PhD in 1997, when I studied the concentration of different blood proteins in human blood and animal models of neurodegeneration. When I moved to Amsterdam University Medical Center(UMC) for my postdoctoral studies, I also moved further into clinical research. Working with experts including Philip Scheltens and Christine Dijkstra, I studied proteins that can be measured in blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), evaluating how they change during the development of diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Alzheimer’s disease.
This work showed me how important collaboration is for biomarker research: to obtain enough high-quality samples and develop accurate biomarkers, we really need to collaborate across research centers and groups.
Since 2009 I have led the Neurochemistry Laboratory at Amsterdam UMC, where we generate biomarkers to improve biological diagnosis, therapy development, and monitoring of disease progression. Our strategy is to address the whole biomarker workflow: from identification of candidate fluid biomarkers, to assay development and validation. However, patients will not truly benefit from all this research until biomarker tests are standardised and accepted for use in the clinic.
So, for the last few years I have been co-leading the Alzheimer’s Association Global Biomarker Standardisation Consortium, which is taking concrete steps to embed biomarkers in clinical practice. CSF and imaging biomarker tests are being increasingly used in specialist clinics: by the end of this decade, I hope to see blood-based biomarker tests being used by doctors much more routinely - enabling timely, molecular diagnosis and prognosis for people with or at risk of neurodegenerative disease.
What is your role in EPND?
I’m leading a number of activities in EPND! Firstly, I’m co-leading a workstream (work package 3) that is creating standardised operating procedures for clinical data and biosample collection. Cohorts often differ in the methods they use to collect and store biosamples, and these differences can bias the results of biomarker tests. The work I’m leading in work package 3 will help harmonise collection and storage protocols for many different types of biosamples, from blood and CSF to stool, urine and saliva – supporting large-scale biomarker research, development and validation.
My other major role in EPND is leading one of the biomarker case studies. In Case Study 2, we are assessing the feasibility, analytical and clinical validity of assays for complement biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia with Lewy bodies. Complement proteins are very interesting to study across neurodegenerative diseases such as these, because they are intimately involved in neuroinflammation, and could help inform diagnosis and monitoring.
How could researchers benefit from the EPND biomarker and biobanking reports that have just been published?
EPND aims to be a platform that both accelerates and enables biomarker research. However, there are many methodological challenges for biomarker researchers and biobanks, such as the best way to collect biosamples, how to process them to maintain the highest quality possible, and how to rigorously validate assays to ensure they are accurate. These challenges are hugely amplified in large-scale biomarker research, when biosamples are drawn from multiple cohorts and studies.
The SOPs and reports that we recently published have two purposes. Firstly, they are being used in the EPND biomarker Case Studies, to ensure the quality of our biosamples, the validity of our biomarker test results – and increase the value and impact of our research. Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the SOPs and reports are designed to support individual researchers, laboratories and biobanks in overcoming some of the obstacles they may face when collecting, processing or analysing biosamples.
For example, to guide individual researchers and laboratories, our SOP for biomarker validation details specific procedures that are required when doing technical validation of fluid biomarker tests, and our SOP for body materials collection lists techniques, materials and methods for collecting and storing blood, CSF, urine, and other biosamples. Then our report on best practices for biobanking collates guidance on certifications, systems, clinical procedures and laboratory protocols, covering the full spectrum of biobanking activity. Drawing on the combined expertise of leading biomarker researchers and biobanks, this report details quality management systems, training of personnel, and infrastructure setup – as well as best practices for biosample collection, transportation, storage, quality control, processing, packaging and shipping.
Preparing these reports was a team effort, involving expert colleagues at BBMRI-ERIC, the University of Gothenburg, University of Geneva, King's College London, Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg, University of Luxembourg, University of Oxford, Novartis, Roche, Takeda and UCB. Together, we hope that this guidance will support researchers and biobanks in collecting and sharing the highest-quality biosamples possible, to honour the contributions of patients and maximise the impact of biomarker studies.
What do you most enjoy about working on EPND?
My favourite thing about EPND – and the reason I believe it will be a success – is its collaborative spirit. It is fantastic to work with a hugely motivated group of people who are experts in their own fields, and are passionate about enabling and accelerating neurodegeneration research for the benefit of patients and society.