Investigating brain biopsies in the search for new biomarkers of disease

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Have a chance to help develop a novel platform for fluidic sampling from the brain and define new biomarkers of disease at NERF!

The vascular system is the dense network of arteries, veins and capillaries that allows the transport of nutrients and messengers from systemic circulation down to single-cell level. The central nervous system (CNS) is the prime example of an energy-demanding (and hence highly vascularized) structure. Owing to its central and unique function, however, the CNS requires a higher level of protection from any exogenous agents that happen to enter the systemic circulation. This added layer of protection is known as the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) and it mainly consists of the lack of capillary fenestrations and the presence of tight junctions in the dense capillary network within the brain. These two features effectively contribute to a stricter control over the agents that are allowed to enter the brain compartment from the blood circulation.

The presence of the BBB becomes problematic for all the therapeutic approaches that target structures within the CNS, as their efficacy is only as good as their ability to cross the barrier. Extensive research is ongoing in multiple directions, starting from the mechanical or chemical disruption of the BBB to the exploitation of endogenous transfer mechanisms to shuttle drugs to the extracellular space. Either way, in order to validate the effectiveness of any one of these approaches, we need a technique that allows us to sample the uncontaminated interstitial fluid. At NERF, a new platform for microfluidic interfacing with the CNS is currently under development and is showing potential for a more widespread use in the field of biomedical sciences.

The student involved in this project will cover an investigative role in the identification of potential biomarkers in chronic biopsies extracted from rodents. The initial step would be a purely quantitative analysis based upon current molecular biology and biophysics techniques, including, for example, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), nucleic acid sequence-based amplification (NASBA), branched DNA assays or polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The student will then move on to the identification of known markers of disease in rodent models (e.g. the presence of Amyloid-β (Aβ) plaque deposits in an Alzheimer’s disease model).


Type of project: Internship, Thesis, Combination of internship and thesis

Duration: 6-9 months

Required degree: Master of Bioengineering, Master of Engineering Science, Master of Science, Master of Engineering Technology

Required background: Biomedical engineering, Bioscience Engineering, Chemistry/Chemical Engineering, Nanoscience & Nanotechnology, Physics

Supervising scientist(s): For further information or for application, please contact: Simone Marcigaglia (Simone.Marcigaglia@nerf.be) and Sebastian Haesler (Sebastian.Haesler@nerf.be)

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