Elin Esbjörner

New Wallenberg Academy Fellow seeks to prevent neurodegenerative disorders

​Elin Esbjörner, Associate professor at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, leads a research group focusing on understanding why nerve cells in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease degenerate. Can the answer be that the internal transport systems of neurons become hijacked by disease-causing proteins?  Elin Esbjörner has been appointed Wallenberg Academy Fellow 2019 and will now develop her research to address this important question.
​Cells use an intricate transport system to sort and transport proteins and other important biomolecules.  The transport system consists of endosomes that encapsulate the cargo and direct its transport. Elin Esbjörner has previously demonstrated that a protein, beta-amyloid, which researchers know is involved in the development of Alzheimer’s, accumulates in the nerve cells’ endosomes. Inside the endosomes, the protein molecules then change and clump together.

With the project that now receives support from the career development programme Wallenberg Academy Fellows, Elin Esbjörner’s research group will focus on obtaining better understanding of how the transport system functions and how it cross talks with proteins that form clumps. They believe this may be of key importance to understand the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s and similar brain disorders.

“Many people today live longer lives, but as our brains age, there is also an increased risk of suffering from neurodegenerative disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 40 million people worldwide. I hope that our research, in longer term, can contribute knowledge to further the development of future preventive and disease-modifying treatments,” says Elin Esbjörner.

To prevent dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders, it is important to protect nerve cells from dying. The research group will use fluorescent molecules and advanced image analysis to study the interplay between the formation of protein clumps and defects to neuronal transport systems. To enable this, new analytical tools are needed.  Elin Esbjörner says that it is important for their research that the group is affiliated with Chalmers. 

“These are complex problems to study; both the protein clumps and the endosomes are highly dynamic and we need new techniques to study them and to understand their interplay in full. Chalmers offers a great environment for this, we can work in an interdisciplinary environment and be inspired and collaborate with other research groups, for example in Chemistry and Physics.”
Elin Esbjörner har a MSc degree in Biotechnology and a PhD in Biophysical Chemistry from Chalmers. She did her postdoc in Cambridge 2008-2011. Since 2012, Elin has been a researcher and group leader at Chalmers.  My research career within neuroscience started during my postdoc in Cambridge. During this time, I got interested in the protein aggregation problem, and I got the first inspirations and ideas that underlie the research question my group addresses today. I am delighted to have become Wallenberg Academy Fellow and now be able to scale up and focus on this research long-term.

Wallenberg Academy Fellows is a career program for Sweden’s most promising young researchers. This year, 29 elected fellows from different disciplines receive grants to take their research forward. 
“I am honoured to become a Wallenberg Academy Fellow. I see it as a recognition that the research activities I have established are important. I am also immensely proud of the work my research group has done so far, and thankful for their contribution to this achievement. This grant gives us a great opportunity to focus for a longer period of time, which I believe is an important aspect to obtaining new knowledge,” says Elin Esbjörner.

The grant from the Wallenberg Academy Fellowship is 7,5 million SEK for 5 years, with a possibility of extended support.

Witlef Wieczorek and Klas Modin at Chalmers are also appointed as Wallenberg Academy Fellows in 2019.

Text: Julia Jansson
Photo: Martina Butorac

Published: Tue 03 Dec 2019.