News & Events
This section keeps you updated on any major developments throughout the course of the PRIME project
8ᵗʰ PRIME Steering Committee meeting11 December 2023
On Monday, 11ᵗʰ December 2023, the 8ᵗʰ PRIME Steering Committee meeting took place. Heading towards the final year of the PRIME project, we had great discussions about our project’s findings on insulin and brain disorders, as well as about our next steps for both research and dissemination.
Experiences of a summer secondment in Heidelberg18 September 2023
PhD student Katalin Vince from Semmelweis University, Budapest, spent two months this summer at the lab of PRIME partner dr. Simone Berkel in Heidelberg. In this blog she shares her experiences.
This year, I had the opportunity to visit the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Heidelberg. We’ve been working in collaboration with Simone Berkel and her team for several years in the framework of the PRIME project. Now, we finally had the opportunity to work together in person. I spent two months in Heidelberg, during which time I got to know new methods, and we had the chance to share our daily experiences and small technical skills that we would not have been able to do online. It became clear to me that it is a fundamental priority at the institute to always have the time and space to discuss both scientific and technical questions that arise. This was useful both for my personal professional development and for the project.
The work was fascinating from the first day when I started working with KCNQ1 heterozygous KO iPSCs. On the one hand, I generated neuronal progenitors using a method I had used before. The resulting cell lines can be used for functional studies and later differentiated in a neuronal direction. At the same time, I had the opportunity to work with another differentiation method using small molecules; this protocol made it possible to generate postmitotic neurons in 16 days. During this part of my work, I also performed a series of functional measurements to monitor neurite outgrowth using the Incucyte system. I was very fortunate because I had the opportunity to join the institute meetings, where not only did the individual students present their progress, but there was also time and space to discuss questions that arose during the work. These discussions were always very inspiring and valuable. Lab life was well organized, people from different disciplines knew each other well, and communication between team members and groups was excellent. The atmosphere was amicable and welcoming, with many foreign exchange students. Last but not least, it was a wonderful experience to be in Heidelberg, a city not only famous as a European research center but also worth a visit for its historical monuments.
Two podcast episodes on insulin, diet and mental health25 January 2023
PRIME partners dr. Silke Matura (Goethe University Frankfurt) and Veerle van Gils (Maastricht University) have recorded two podcast episodes as part of the ECNP podcast series. In these two episodes they talk about their research as part of the PRIME study. In part 1 they discuss the role of dysfunctional insulin signaling as modulator of mental and non-mental chronic diseases. In part 2 they go further into the effects of lifestyle on cognition, and the various techniques used to measure different types of cognition. You can listen to the podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Buzzsprout, or here: https://www.ecnp.eu/Informationandnews/podcasts
What Genetics Can Teach Us About Mental Health5 October 2022
Master student Barbara Šakić has written a blog about why genetic research on psychiatric illness is important. For this purpose she has interviewed PRIME coordinator Dr. Janita Bralten. You can read the blog here.Click for more
Interview with Dr. Janita Bralten on ‘Insulinopathies of the brain? Genetic overlap between somatic insulin-related and neuropsychiatric disorders’12 July 2022
As part of the ‘Research in Practice in Mental Health’ series, Dr. Janita Bralten recently gave an interview talking about PRIME’s work on the genetic overlap between somatic disorders and brain-based disorders. To hear the full interview, please click here.
Jordi Salas-Salvadó receives the International Award for Excellence in Research from the International Nut & Dried Fruit Council17 May 2022
The CIBEROBN group leader and Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at the University Rovira y Virgili (IISPV) Jordi Salas-Salvadó has received the Award for Excellence in Research during the XXXIX World Nut and Dried Fruit Congress, which was held in Dubai on May 11-13, 2022. This award recognizes the scientific research career of excellence in the field of Nutrition and specifically in the study of the beneficial effects of nuts and dried fruits on health. Professor Salas-Salvadó has been investigating the effect of nuts on body weight and different markers of cardiovascular risk for about two decades using animal models, epidemiological studies and clinical trials. He has published more than 20 articles in the field of nut studies and has also been one of the leaders and promoters of the PREDIMED study, a multicenter clinical trial with more than 7000 participants recognized worldwide that has contributed to clarify the importance of the Mediterranean diet enriched with nuts or olive oil on the prevention of diabetes, metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease. Now is leading the PREDIMED-plus study, another large clinical trial (>6000 participants followed by 8 years) aiming to assess the effect of lifestyle intervention on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease where cognition, depression and impulsivity are well characterized. Prof Salas-Salvadó has written more than 800 scientific articles in Science Citation Index and has been declared as a “highly cited researcher” between 2018 and 2021 by Clarivate. He is participating in different National, European (Eat2BeNice, PRIME, STOP), USA (NIH) and Canada (CIHR) projects.
PRIME study – what research on mice can tell us about insulin and mental disorders3 May 2022
Professor Simone Macri works at the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome, Italy. In this video, he and two of his group members, Martina Presta and Angela Ottomana, tell you about the research that they are doing as part of the PRIME study.
This video has been created as part of a multimedia installation at the Istituto Superiore di Sanita and can also be viewed there at the main entrance (Viale Regina Elena 229, 00161 in Rome, Italy).
New publication “Insulinopathies of the brain? Genetic overlap between somatic insulin-related and neuropsychiatric disorders”14 February 2022
In PRIME, we hypothesized that there might be shared underlying biological mechanisms between insulin-related somatic disorders and brain-based disorders. In this manuscript, coming out of the genetics work package of PRIME, we indeed show that there is a significant genetic overlap between somatic insulin-related disorders and brain-based disorders. This work is a proof-of-principle that we are on the right track in PRIME, where we will now continue to investigate which genetic variants play a role in this genetic overlap.
Read the full publication here.
To explore more PRIME publications, click here.
COGNOMICS workshop “Capturing the brain for neuroimaging genomics”5 May 2021
What is Cognomics? The Cognomics Initiative includes several excellent research groups from Nijmegen who have joined forces to unravel the complex connections between genes, brain structure and function, and cognitive processes such as memory, language and those relevant for psychiatric disorders. Their conferences aim to foster knowledge exchange and collaboration in the broader field of brain imaging genetics.
Like our past in-person conferences, the workshop will include keynote lectures, as well as smaller-scale breakout sessions in which junior researchers will get the opportunity to present their work in the presence of their peers and research leaders, providing time for discussion of each of the contributions. Leading experts will discuss innovations in characterizing the human brain for imaging genomics research and beyond, with keynote lectures on environmental effects (Lauren Salminen), genome screens of EEG traits (Dirk Smit) and functional MRI (Henrik Walter), and transcriptomics of oscillatory activity (Genevieve Konopka).
Please mark your calendars now!
If you would like to present your work during one of the breakout sessions, please send an email to email@example.com.
More information about registration will become available soon.
Watch how brain cells form networks in the laboratory12 March 2021
One method to study the brain is by growing brain cells in petri dishes. This way we can investigate the function of specific proteins in these brain cells, which can tell us more about how the brain works.
Doctoral student Dorothea Schall from Heidelberg has made a video of the brain cells that she is growing for her research. She uses cells that are created from human skin cells (fibroblasts) and reprogrammed these so that they behave like stem cells. These cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs in short. Those iPSCs then differentiate into neuronal stem cells, after which they further develop into a type of brain cells called cortical forebrain neurons. During the video you see that the cells start to grow branches, the so-called neurites, to create connections between the different cells and cell clusters. They start with rather big neurites to first find each other, and then continue to strengthen and refine the network by producing a lot of small neurites. At the end of the video (after 11 days) you can see that very highly connected cells merge into a single cell. This interconnected network of neuronal cells can be seen as a (very primitive) mini-brain.
Dorothea Schall says: “Those neurons are important for my work, because I can use them to investigate the function of a specific protein (called KCNQ1) in these cells. To do so, I will create cells with an inoperative gene, encoding the protein of interest, leading to non-functional protein or no protein at all. By comparing those cells missing the function of the protein of interest and ‘normal’ cells, I’m able to examine the function of this protein in neurons, which is unknown so far.”
Upcoming PRIME Webinars!11 March 2021
* Tuesday 30 March at 16:00h (CEST): Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ASD, ADHD and OCD) – by prof. Jan Buitelaar
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are neurodevelopmental disorders with onset in early childhood by definition (ASD) or in most cases (ADHD). ASD is characterized by persistent problems in social interaction and communication and rigid patterns of behaviour, and ADHD by a pattern of inattentive and/or hyperactive-impulsive behaviours. ASD and ADHD have a strong phenotypic overlap and share genetic risk factors and neural underpinnings. They are thought to be due to early disruptions of brain development, at the prenatal or early post-natal stage. Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) is classified among the anxiety disorders, and characterized by a pattern of recurring thoughts (called “obsessions”) and/or behaviors that need to be repeated (called “compulsions”) to an extent which generates distress or impairs general functioning. OCD mostly has onset around age 10 or later. This webinar will review the clinical characteristics, onset and course of these disorders, identify similarities and differences.
*Monday 17 May at 10:00h (CEST): Retinal and cognitive dysfunction in type 2 diabetes: unravelling the common pathways and identification of patients at risk of dementia – RECOGNISED – by prof. Noemi Lois
RECOGNISED aims at determining the usefulness of the retina as a tool to identify people with type 2 diabetes and cognitive impairment, and those at risk of developing cognitive decline and dementia.
Highlights from the first PRIME General Assembly meeting15 January 2021
By Jeanette Mostert – Dissemination Manager
One of the perks of being part of a European research consortium is that once a year you get to travel to a nice location, meet your fellow consortium members and engage in scientific and non-scientific discussions over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, such an in-person event was not possible this year. And hence, the first general assembly meeting of the PRIME project was organised on Zoom, from the comforts (and discomforts) of our own homes. But despite being physically distanced, the meeting was still a great success. More than 50 partners joined from 9 countries for 2.5 days of scientific discussions.
I will share some personal highlights.
1. Early career scientists are already producing the first results
The meeting started with a masterclass for early career scientists. These are the master students, PhD students and post doctoral researchers that are spending most of their time collecting data, working in the lab, doing analyses and generating results. They presented their research plans and first results, and received feedback from senior members of the scientific advisory board. For instance, PhD student Giuseppe Fanelli has analysed the genetic overlap between metabolic conditions (obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome) and neurological/mental conditions (Alzheimer’s disease, autism disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder). These results will soon be published in an academic journal. Others are working hard on growing cells in petri dishes, training mice to do memory tests and recruiting participants for clinical studies.
2. Inspiring inter-disciplinary collaborations
Doing science “from molecule to man” is a bit of a buzz-word in the field. Nevertheless, this consortium really does encompass all steps, ranging from studies in single neurons to population studies that include data of 1.9 million individuals. I find it inspiring to be part of discussions where results from animal research are compared to clinical findings in humans, and where genetic findings are interpreted in the context of population data. Such close collaboration helps us to answer questions such as:
- How are neurological/mental disorders and metabolic/somatic disorders linked?
- What is the role of insulin in the link between neurological and metabolic disorders?
- What is the role of the molecule KCNQ1 in the link between insulin and metabolic, neurological and mental disorders?
- Can we identify new drug targets to improve disease outcomes or prevent disorders in susceptible individuals?
3. Don’t forget to exercise and enjoy nature!
We know that sitting all day indoors is not good for you. So the project management and project leaders encouraged us in various ways to take effective breaks. This included a joint 2-minute work out, which was great fun. We were also provided with virtual walks through nature, taken in the surrounding of Nijmegen (the city in The Netherlands were we had planned to organize the meeting) and through the snowy forests of Germany. Thanks to these active breaks, my brain was able to keep up with all the new information that was coming in.
Next year we hope to see each other in person again, and share new results and insights. Until then, we will keep sharing the latest news on this website and on our social media. Be sure to follow us so you won’t miss out on the next steps of our consortium!
Two young PRIME scientists awarded with prestigious grant in The Netherlands5 November 2020
Dr. Janita Bralten from Radboudumc and Dr. Willemijn Jansen from Maastricht University have each obtained a prestigious research grant from the Dutch Research Council. This VENI-grant awards researchers who recently obtained their PhD with 250,000 euro’s to further develop their research ideas for a period of three years.
Dr. Janita Bralten aims to gain a better understanding of psychiatric disorders based on genetic traits. She will do this by investigating genetic subgroups in the total population that are related to psychiatric problems, going beyond psychiatric diagnoses. Dr. Willemijn Jansen will investigate why some people are resilient to developing Alzheimer’s symptoms, even though their brains do show markers of pathology. For this she will study proteins in cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that’s present in the brain and spinal cord). Through this research she hopes to find clues that help to develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease.
You can read more about the VENI-grants here: https://www.nwo.nl/en/calls/nwo-talent-programme
PRIME researchers on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for eating disorders8 May 2020
Lead by Prof. Fernando Fernandez-Aranda from the University of Barcelona, they describe the challenges faced by both patients and health care workers and provide possible solutions to improve care in these times (and even beyond the crisis). “[The COVID-19 pandemic] highlights the core need for connection and the pain of loneliness which are often central but sometimes forgotten symptoms of people with pre-existing mental health”. Read it here.
PRIME – EU funded research project on insulin multimorbidities kicks off!15 January 2020
17 European institutions from 9 countries come together to study the mechanisms underlying mental and somatic insulin multimorbidity across the lifespan.