#UniLodz IDUB Grants - searching for the causes of Alzheimer's disease

Ageing of the population and the increasing percentage of people suffering from dementia, the most common form of which is Alzheimer's disease (AD), is one of the greatest challenges in modern medicine. The causes, disease progression, treatment and diagnosis are still generally poorly understood. Research aimed at searching for new possibilities of its diagnosis, which would enable early and accurate diagnosis, is constantly being conducted. This, in turn, may contribute to reducing tragic effects of the disease, improving the patient’s life or reducing treatment costs. Currently, the activities undertaken in this direction concern not only the search for compounds (biomarkers), the presence and concentration of which in human biological fluids are correlated with the development of pathological conditions, but also provision of new analytical tools (ultimately, they are to facilitate screening tests on large populations). The research activities undertaken by dr Justyna Piechocka from the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Lodz as part of the project financed by IDUB #UniLodz IDUB Competition for Young Researchers funds perfectly fit into the current trends in bioanalytics.

Dr Justyna Piechocka working in a laboratory

Innovative research - new methods  

AD is an incurable, progressive neurodegenerative disease, ultimately resulting in death. The assumed effect of the project is to provide precise and accurate analytical tools (methods) based on the use of modern measurement techniques - gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), which will enable determination of chemical compounds being derivatives of naturally occurring sulphur compounds and endogenous aldehydes in biological samples (plasma, urine, etc.). Importantly, research in this direction has not been conducted so far. The undertaken research problem seems to be all the more important and interesting, as clinical trials conducted over several decades have shown a link between the disturbances of the above mentioned metabolites and deterioration of perceptual abilities.   

In particular, it has been found that the elevated levels of these compounds in human body fluids promote development of AD. At the same time, professional literature, in many cases, does not provide information on the mechanisms of their harmful effect and products of their interactions.  

Facilitating diagnosis and effective treatment   

Dr Justyna Piechocka explains:

Therefore, it can be assumed that if the presence of these chemical compounds is confirmed in the samples that are used most frequently for diagnostic tests, i.e., human urine or blood (serum, plasma), the obtained results may be of interest to clinicians and biochemists. 

In particular, the use of the developed methodologies in the near future may turn out to be useful in research aimed at better understanding of metabolic pathways of sulphur compounds or explaining the role of these derivatives in pathophysiological states in living organisms. In the longer term, it will be possible to use the developed methods in screening tests aimed at learning about their relationship with the development of AD, aimed at confirming or excluding the possibility of using these derivatives as an indicator (a biomarker). This may contribute to facilitating early diagnosis and getting to know the effective ways of AD treatment.   

An important step in bioanalytical science   

The assumed effect of the project is provision of new tools (methods), the use of which in the analysis of samples will make it possible to confirm or exclude the presence of derivatives of selected endogenous sulphur compounds and aldehydes in urine or blood.   

Dr Justyna Piechocka says:

As a result, I will obtain preliminary information on the content of these compounds in human biological fluids. I expect full implementation of this part of the intended scientific activities within the next 2 years. The results obtained so far bode well for further progress in the research works. Ultimately, the collected data will help me outline the next research directions. In particular, if the presence of the mentioned above derivatives is confirmed in human urine or blood, it will be important to undertake activities carried out in close cooperation with clinicians, which will include a statistical analysis of biomedical data, in order to understand the relationship between their presence and content, and at least the stage of the disease development or the possibility of its occurrence. Unfortunately, this type of research is a long-term activity. Therefore, we will have to wait for the effects and the possibility of drawing final conclusions.

Dr Justyna Piechocka – an assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Chemistry at the Faculty of Chemistry, University of Lodz (UL). Her research interests focus on developing new methods of analysis of biological samples, including urine, saliva and plasma, for the content of biologically significant endo- and exogenous sulphur compounds, based on the use of separation techniques. She is a co-author of 26 scientific studies, including 15 publications in reputable journals from the so-called Philadelphia list, 2 chapters in a scientific monograph and about 80 speeches, presented during national and international conferences. Over the years 2014-2021, dr Justyna Piechocka was a beneficiary of the MINIATURE grant and a contractor in 3 other research projects (SONATA, OPUS), financed by the National Science Centre. She has also participated, as a volunteer, in the implementation of a grant financed by the Slovenian Research Agency. Her achievements in the development of separation techniques were appreciated by the Presidium of the Committee on Analytical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which awarded her in the 2019 Best Doctorate Competition. She is a member of the Polish Chemical Society (PTChem) and the European Chemical Society. In the years 2013-2019 she was a member of the PTChem Student Section Board and she was a delegate on behalf of PTChem in the European Young Chemists` Network.   

The grant "Creation of chromatographic tool(s) for examination of thiazine reaction products of homocysteine and its metabolite, homocysteine thiolactone, with formaldehyde – a potential relationship to Alzheimer`s disease" is carried out as part of a project financed by the  #UniLodz IDUB Competition for Young Researchers.  

#UniLodz IDUB are grant competitions in which the University of Lodz finances research ideas of its scientists and doctoral students. By supporting them in practicing good science, the University implements a strategy of striving for research excellence in all areas and disciplines. The competitions also serve internationalisation - development and tightening cooperation between the University and international researchers. As part of grants addressed to scientists from the outside of the University of Lodz, the team is joined by experienced and young researchers. This favours fusion of experiences and increasing the University's scientific potential, supports networking and employee mobility.   

Grants are financed as part of the subsidy increased by 2% for universities that joined the Initiative of Excellence - Research University (IDUB) competition in 2019. The University of Lodz will receive additional funding for research until 2026. Internal grant competitions have been implemented since 2020.  

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