14 Dec 2020
Scientia PhD scholar in Brain Ageing and Proteomics Research Laboratory at CHeBA, Gurjeet Kaur is researching plasma proteome profiles of early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer's disease from three different cohorts for identification of potential blood-based biomarkers. Gurjeet hopes her proteomics findings from the longitudinal cohort will dissect the pathological changes and help us understand the complexity of Alzheimer's disease and further targeted drug discovery. Gurjeet is also working for the development of clinically relevant proteomics methods which will impact the mass spectrometry-based plasma proteomics field.
How did you first get into research?
After finishing high school, I joined a biology lab in my home town to learn about DNA extraction. Every evening I would go to the lab to learn biochemistry and molecular biology techniques and concepts. My research interest subsequently evolved, as I found both molecular and cellular signalling fascinating. During this time, I discovered that understanding the molecular-level of life ultimately determines the quality of life. With increased enthusiasm from this understanding, I involved myself in various projects of proteomics research, which included studying molecular biology and microbiology in my undergrad and Master’s degrees.
Did you experience a ‘defining moment’ which led you to this field?
I was always fascinated by the complexity of our brains and eager to study. But in India, I never had the chance to research Neuroscience indepth, so when I saw an opportunity to study Alzheimer’s disease in combination with proteomics, I immediately applied for a PhD position. For me, a life-altering moment was when I attended a conference in the USA, whereI had the chance to meet a girl who had detected positive for dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease (ADAD). Sadly, her entire family, including her siblings, also had inheriting Alzheimer’s disease in their genes. Her explanation of the situation was that she wakes every single day, looks at her siblings and is immediately reminded that they are slowly dying in front of her and there is nothing she can do about it. She became my inspiration and motivation to continue working in this field beyond completion of my PhD.
Do you have any personal interests or activities which are protective behaviours against cognitive decline?
My primary interest to protect against cognitive decline and promote better brain health for myself is physical activity. I love music and dance, especially Bhangra (traditional dance of the Indian and Pakistan subcontinent “Punjab”) which I have partaked in almost every single day for many years. For me, Bhangra is more than just a musical genre; it’s my happy place. Whenever I feel stressed, I just put on my headphones and play my favourite music and dance which is my secret to staying energetic and motivated to do good work. Recently, while doing a dance workout, I was significantly influenced by Afrobeats so I have now also started learning that West African style. Apart from Bhangra, I also go running and chasing the sunset on the beach. I love travelling to places with beautiful underwater coral reefs.
What are you currently researching?
My PhD project is focused on the development of blood-based biomarkers for early identification of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent advances in Alzheimer’s disease research shows that brain changes commence 15-20 years before the onset of clinical symptoms. My research includes the development of clinical proteomics methods to identify indepth plasma proteome of three different Alzheimer’s disease studies, i.e. autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease (DIAN study), longitudinal study of ageing, mild cognitive impairment, and late onset Alzheimer’s disease (CHeBA’s Memory and Ageing Study) and Alzheimer’s disease with positive APOE4 gene (AIBL study). I am looking into both early and late onset Alzheimer’s disease types to identify similarities and differences by profiling the plasma proteome of each patient through performing thousands of Mass Spectrometry runs.
My ultimate aim through my PhD is to identify potential biomarker(s), which can differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from normal ageing and mild cognitive impairment.
Why is your research important?
My PhD projects include both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies to understand the pathological changes during the disease. I am using plasma proteomics to analyse indepth proteome of hundreds of people with Alzheimer’s disease, in order to identify blood-based biomarkers. This will avoid invasive and expensive CSF and imaging methods. Further, longitudinal proteomics data generated from my PhD will help to explore signalling pathways for better understanding of the disease.
CHeBA has allowed me to work within a world-leading brain research laboratory, and I am continually learning from other researchers. The entire CHeBA team is encouraging and always willing to share their time and expertise. The Centre also provides regular updates on the latest research through its internal CHeBA Seminar Series and the regular international Visiting Lecture Series is helping to make an enormous difference in my research understanding.
What is the ultimate hope you have for your research?
Human plasma proteomics has the potential to dissect the complex pathobiology of diseases and provide cost-effective biomarkers for drug targets. A critical ability of plasma proteomics is to detect and quantify proteins across samples in larger cohorts robustly.
I hope my PhD outcomes will fill in the gaps in our understanding of longitudinal changes during the onset of the disease, which will bring us one step closer to the development of potential and reliable biomarker to stop the disease rather than reversing when significant damages have occurred already.
This interview was undertaken during the COVID-19 self-isolation period. Gurjeet Kaur found that having video calls over dinner with her family and friends supported her mental resilience and kept her feeling socially connected while physically isolated.
Gurjeet Kaur is a Scientia PhD student at CHeBA with the Brain Ageing and Proteomics Research Laboratory. She is supervised by Professor Perminder Sachdev and Dr. Anne Poljak, working on a collaborative project with the MAS cohort from UNSW Sydney, AIBL cohort from University of Melbourne, Australia, and DIAN cohort from Washington State University St. Louis, USA, to develop clinically cost effective mass spectrometry methods and blood-based biomarkers using proteomics approaches for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Gurjeet completed a Master of Science at Thapar University, Patiala, India, followed by various proteomics, cell and molecular biology projects from NDRI, Karnal, India.