Sine R. Hadrup modtager Juniorforskerprisen 2015

10 million kr. to ground-breaking sclerosis research at DTU Vet

Tuesday 10 Nov 15
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by Anette-Bill-Jessen

Contact

Sine Reker Hadrup
Professor
DTU Vet
+45 35 88 62 90

About the Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship Programme

With its Fellowship Programme, Lundbeck Foundation aims to provide talented scientists with a unique opportunity to conduct concentrated and dedicated research for a period of five years. Each Fellow receives a research grant for DKK 10 million. Grants go to young scientists who have gained a PhD within the past five to seven years and are qualified to establish or develop their own research teams in biomedical sciences.

Read more on the webpage

With the Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship in hand, associate professor Sine Reker Hadrup, from the DTU Vet, will over the next five years identify why the immune system attacks healthy tissue in diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The immune system fights usually infections, but sometimes it suddenly attacks the body's own healthy cells. This is the case in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

 “We know very little about the signals that healthy cells send out that cause the immune system to attack. I’ve developed a technology that can identify precisely what the immune system reacts to,” explains Sine Reker Hadrup.

Technology to find a needle in a haystack

All of the cells in our body display a small fragment of protein on their exterior. This small protein tells us what is going on inside the cell, and whether it is functioning normally. Special cells in the immune system, so-called T cells, patrol the body and monitor its cells by looking at this small fragment of protein. In the case of autoimmune diseases, some of the body’s cells suddenly display a fragment of protein that provokes the T cells to attack, even though the cell is actually healthy. Therefore, Sine Reker Hadrup would like to identify which small proteins have this effect.

“Cells can display over 10,000 different small protein fragments, which the immune system is potentially able to recognise. So it’s quite a challenge to identify the very small number that gives an autoimmune reaction.”

It is only possible to look for 40 protein fragments at a time when testing using current methods. In other words, it is a time-consuming process, requiring large quantities of test material to get to the bottom of it. 

DNA bar codes as ID cards

Therefore, Sine Reker Hadrup has developed a new tactic for identifying the protein fragments to which the immune system reacts negatively. She will synthesise all of the 10,000 small protein fragments and combine them with the surface molecule that cells use to display the small protein fragments. By linking the two, she can get the immune system’s T cells to recognise the protein fragments.

In order to be able to identify which protein fragments the immune system reacts to, each individual fragment is marked with a DNA tag. The tag acts as a bar code, identifying each individual fragment of protein. This enables Sine Reker Hadrup to add all 10,000 protein complexes at once to one single sample of blood or cerebrospinal fluid from a patient.

“The T cells present in the patient's sample will bind to the same small protein fragments as they do in the tissue. So, afterwards, when we pull out the protein fragments that are bound to T cells, we can use the DNA bar code to identify which cells cause the immune system to react,” the newly-appointed Lundbeck Foundation Fellow explains.

New treatment options

Research partners in Brussels, in Munich and at Copenhagen University Hospital, who are leaders in the field of rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, provide Sine with access to samples from patients, and she uses these to search for the interesting protein fragments that initiate an autoimmune reaction.

“When we identify what the immune system reacts to, we also find new areas that we can target with treatment. We can then, for example, make a concerted effort to suppress the specific T cells that attack the tissue. If we can also identify disease-related T cells in people at high risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis at an early stage, we may be able to intervene before the disease breaks out in earnest,” says Sine Reker Hadrup.