They got the seed grants
Four research groups will get seed grants from Life Science Engineering. The groups will focus on biomass, RNA and ALS, alpha-synuclein interactions with lipid membranes and medical images of the lumbar spine. Among other things!
Eleven proposals with high quality were sent in four the Area of Advance’s seed grants. Of those, four was chosen to get the grant.
Artur Chodorowski from the Department of Signals and Systems will collaborate with Diagnostic Radiation Physics at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, and with the Department of Radiology at Mölndals Hospital.
– Our project is about advanced segmentation of medical images of the lumbar spine, in the context of chronic back pain diagnostics and treatment. Advanced segmentation means automatic finding and delineation – with computer – of various parts of the spine such as vertebrae, discs and endplates on images obtained with magnetic resonance camera, he says.
The segmentation is today performed manually, which is usually very time-consuming – to the point where it’s not feasible to use in daily practice.
– Our goal is to supply the clinicians and researchers with algorithms and software tools for automatic spine analysis, making these tools user-friendly in the daily clinical work. Such tools will be useful for diagnostic support, they save time for the clinicians and have the potential to increase the diagnostic accuracy, Artur Chodorowski says.
Physics-professor Eva Olsson is teaming up with Merima Hasani from the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Lisbeth Olsson and Johan Larsbrink from the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering. The group will develop methods that will give access to the detailed material structure of biomass.
– This will enable us to expand the knowledge about plant cell walls and their conversion as a result of chemical, physical and enzymatic treatment. We will explore the possibilities that the new SOFT Microscopes, funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, offer for the characterisation of biomass, Eva Olsson says.
The research group already have detailed plans on how to use the grant:
– We will prepare and pretreat biomass samples, produce and purify enzymes, perform biomass enzyme treatments, develop method for specimen preparation for electron microscopy, study the structures in the electron microscopes, study the interaction between the biomass and electron beam to develop optimised imaging and spectroscopy modes to enhance contrast without staining, she says.
– The latter is a dream that I have had for a long time and now we will start the work! This is a challenge and we have a dream team and a dream environment to meet it. We also hope that the initial work will generate information for more extensive funding applications.
The third project is headed by Elin Esbjörner Winters, Department of Biology and Biological Engineering.
– Our project is about the development of a new method to directly image delivery of therapeutic RNA molecules into living cells. We will also apply the method to explore if RNA could be used to treat ALS, a fatal motor neuron disease for which there is today no cure or treatments. Our idea is that RNA binding to the protein TDP-43 will prevent or diminish its disease-causing aggregation in cells.
To do this research, Elin Esbjörner Winters is collaborating with Marcus Wilhelmsson from the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.
– He provides RNA expertise to this project and has developed a number of exciting fluorescent probes that will make it possible to image RNA molecules and their interaction with TDP-43 directly within living cells, she says.
– We are very excited about the opportunity to try out this idea and happy that LSE supports us in doing so.
Pernilla Wittung Stafshede and Fredrik Höök, Departments of Biology and Biological Engineering and Physics, will investigate molecular mechanisms and consequences of alpha-synuclein (aS) interactions with lipid membranes as a function of curvature and lipid composition, protein disease-causing mutations and aS-induced pore formation.
– We will take advantage of new methods developed in the Höök lab to study individual vesicles and combine it with my protein expertise and thereby reveal molecular properties impossible to obtain by bulk experiments. This type of information is very important as it is thought that aS interacts with membranes both for normal function and as a trigger in the development of Parkinson's disease, Pernilla Wittung Stafshede says.
– This is a new collaboration but we actually worked together more than 20 years ago when we both were PhD students.
The grant will go to salaries for one person in each lab, Pernilla Wittung Stafshede explains, and they will work jointly on this.
– We have all the set ups to do the experiments, so the key is to have dedicated and experienced people that can execute and further propel the ideas. We already have such people in our labs that are excited to embark on this next year.
Although their experience, they did not expect to get this grant:
– No we did not. I am new at Chalmers and Fredrik was mostly connected with AoA Nano and Materials so far. It feels great that different areas of research and complementary expertize can be brought together in this way. Getting this funding is an honor and it will make a difference for us, as it will allow us to test new things we would not have gotten to otherwise. It is a risky project but also rewarding if we get it to work. Truly, this may seed future bigger collaborations and joint project applications.
Text: Mia Malmstedt