Lina Dinkel awarded the Helmholtz Doctoral Prize 2023 for her research on childhood dementia

Congratulations! Our young scientist Lina Dinkel, biochemist in Dr. Sabina Tahirovic's research group at the DZNE Munich, has received the Helmholtz Doctoral Prize 2023. She was awarded for her doctoral thesis “Pathological Consequences of NPC1 Loss in Microglia on Brain Function” on Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC). The prize is endowed with 5,000 EUR and a travel and material allowance of 2,000 EUR per month for up to six months.

NPC is a hereditary metabolic disorder and among the rare diseases. In Germany, it is estimated that several hundred people are affected by this form of childhood dementia. In these individuals, fat molecules - known as lipids - accumulate in their brains and other organs such as the liver, which leads to functional disorders and, in the long term, neurodegeneration. The consequences are severe: ranging from psychoses, epileptic seizures, disturbances in movement and coordination to cognitive impairments and dementia. Current therapies can alleviate symptoms somewhat, but cannot sustainably halt progression of the disease. Many patients affected by NPC die before they reach adulthood.

With my work, I hope to bring more attention to rare diseases and show that their research is essential for understanding cellular mechanisms.
Lina Dinkel

The Tahirovic lab at the DZNE Munich is primarily researching the cellular mechanisms that lead to neurodegeneration. There, Lina Dinkel investigated the role of the brain's immune cells, known as microglia, in NPC in her doctoral thesis. She showed that changes in microglia occur early in NPC pathology and that these changes alone can lead to neurodegeneration. Lina Dinkel was also able to detect these cellular changes in macrophages (peripheral immune cells) from blood samples of NPC patients. Unlike human microglia, which require taking them from brain tissue, macrophages are much easier to access: they circulate in the bloodstream. The use of macrophages in NPC research could therefore provide new possibilities for drug screening or for monitoring therapeutic measures in NPC patients.

At Helmholtz, nearly 9,000 doctoral candidates conduct research. Each year, Helmholtz awards the best and most original doctoral theses in six research fields with the Doctoral Prize. At the end of April, eleven doctoral candidates were honored at the Helmholtz Head Office in Berlin. The award winners receive a one-time prize of 5,000 euros. In addition, Helmholtz supports stays abroad with a travel and material cost allowance of 2,000 euros per month. This sum is granted for a period of up to six months. Nominations are made by the Executive Boards of the Helmholtz Centers.

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