Research Assistant: Neurometabolism in Neurodegenerative DiseasesSummer Course

Major Discipline(s)
Biology, Biomedicine / Biotechnology, Neuroscience
Location: Copenhagen
Lab & Research Session

Blanca Aldana’s laboratory (NeuroMet) focuses on the study of brain energy and neurotransmitter metabolism and its impact on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia. Presently, the investigations in NeuroMet take advantage of diverse brain-derived preparations including cell cultures of neurons and astrocytes, brain slices and cutting edge cell-based model systems such as hiPSC-brain cells and brain organoids, as well as high-output biochemical methodologies for dynamic metabolic mapping and for investigating bioenergetics.

Research Assistantship: Two 6-credit research assistantship projects are offered, with 1-2 students per project.

Project 1: Dynamic mapping focusing on pathways relevant for energy metabolism in neurons and astrocytes in an Alzheimer’s disease model. In this project, you use techniques including brain cell culturing, 13C -labelled isotopes and gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GCMS), as well as HPLC. You have the opportunity to work with a unique disease model, the 5xfAD mouse. This transgenic mouse harbors five different mutations found in patients with familial Alzheimer´s Disease and is increasingly being used as a research tool. The principle mentor will be Blanca Aldana, but you are also partnered with a lab technician.

Project 2: Neurodevelopmental metabolic changes in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In this project, you investigate brain organoids from ASD patients. The brain organoids or ‘minibrains’ are hPSC-derived three-dimensional in vitro culture systems that recapitulate the developmental processes and organization of the developing human brain. You apply diverse biochemical techniques such as 13C-subtrate incubations, GCMS, HPLC, Seahorse analyses to investigate alterations in energy and amino acid metabolism at different developmental stages. This is a great opportunity for basic science-oriented students. The project involves close collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark.

References (selected)

  • McNair, LF, Andersen, JV, Nissen, JD, (et al), Rosenberg, PA, Aldana, BI (2020) Conditional Knockout of GLT-1 in Neurons Leads to Alterations in Aspartate Homeostasis and Synaptic Mitochondrial Metabolism in Striatum and Hippocampus. Neurochemical Research. In press.
  • Andersen JV, Jakobsen E, Waagepetersen HS, Aldana BI (2019). Distinct differences in rates of oxygen consumption and ATP synthesis of regionally isolated non-synaptic mouse brain mitochondria. J Neurosci Res. 97(8):961-974.
  • Aldana BI (2019) Microglia Specific Metabolic Changes in Neurodegeneration. J Mol Biol. 431(9):1830-1842.
  • Aldana BI, Waagepetersen HS, Schousboe A, White HS, Bulaj G, Walls AB. (2017) The novel anticonvulsant neuropeptide and galanin analogue, NAX-5055, does not alter energy and amino acid metabolism in cultured brain cells. J Neurosci Res. 95(11):2286-2296.
  • Aldana BI, Zhang Y, Lihme MF, Bak LK, Nielsen JE, Holst B, Hyttel P, Freude KK, Waagepetersen HS. (2017) Characterization of energy and neurotransmitter metabolism in cortical glutamatergic neurons derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells: A novel approach to study metabolism in human neurons. Neurochem Int. 106:48-61.

Research Assistantship Hours

Students will spend 180 hours directly engaged in research, together with 20 hours in co-curricular activities during their summer study. You will arrange a schedule with your mentor which will allow you to complete, per week, an average of 22 hours of lab-work, 10 theoretical hours of reading and writing, and 3 hours of field studies focused on Danish culture and language, to complement your research and provide context for your time abroad: 35 hours in total each week. Note: there may be peak times in the research process where all Research Assistant students are expected to spend a few more hours, and then possibly a few less another week – to reflect the individual research project and process. Also, the total hours may to some extend vary according to research opportunity and expectation of your mentor.

Field Studies: Culture & Language

As a complement to your summer research, you will meet other research assistants every Wednesday, together with faculty from the DIS European Humanities program, for a 6-week introduction to culture and language in Copenhagen. You will deepen your intercultural understanding through these weekly field studies focused on local culture and language. Humanities faculty from DIS will introduce you to various aspects of Danish culture, provide you with the opportunity to learn some key terms in the language, and offer a chance to discuss the cultural experiences you are having while researching in Scandinavia. The field study-based culture and language component of the course is graded pass/fail and comprises 5% of your final research assistantship grade.

Related Discipline(s)

This summer course would also be of interest to the following discipline(s):
Chemistry / Biochemistry


Blanca Aldana

DIS Summer Faculty

Ph.D. (Sciences with a specialization in Neurochemistry, Biomedicine Research Institute, UNAM, 2013). Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Pharmacobiology, CINVESTAV, 2014, and at the NeuroMetabolism Research Group, Helle Waagepetersen Lab, University of Copenhagen, 2014-2018. Co-Head of the NeuroMet Group, 2018. Assistant Professor at the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen,  2019-present. Scientific member of the Metabolism and Inflammation Research Cluster.