NDAL at a Turning Point in 2018

Founded in 2005 with a mission to contribute to the progress of neuroscience in Turkey, and to lead the way in the study  of neurodegenerative diseases, the Neurodegeneration Research Laboratory (NDAL) is the first example of an academic collaboration between a university and a prestigious foundation in Turkey. NDAL conducts research on the molecular analyses and mechanisms of progressive brain disorders, than cause progressive neuron death in selected regions of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s diseases, ALS and ataxias. Since the pathophysiology of these diseases is not clear, effective treatments are very limited. Genetic research aims to understand the underlying mechanisms of these diseases and identify potential therapeutic targets. Though the mechanisms giving rise to neuron degeneration are diverse, molecular pathways converge on many levels, thus understanding one of these diseases will be instrumental in paving the ways for the elucidation of the others. 

The completion of the Human Genome Project along with the development of high throughput technologies changed paradigms in medical sciences and put genetics and genomics into the center of biomedical research and clinical practise. The rapid discovery of a wealth of genes in the above diseases not only unraveled several novel and diverging mechanisms, but also pointed to a marked heterogeneity of these diseases on several levels, stemming from their molecular and genetic backgrounds. Today, neurology and neurological diseases are one of the most difficult subjects of genetics, yet they are by far the best and most sophisticated models for molecular genetic research.

As there is an insufficient knowledge base in this particular field at medical schools, NDAL has earned the trust of hospitals and university clinics across the country and, with its experienced team, authority on the subject matter, and high-end laboratory infrastructure, has evolved into a center that can diagnose neurological diseases on a molecular level. The wealth of samples at NDAL creates a great potential for research and gives the laboratory  a unique opportunity and position to conduct research on neurodegenerative mechanisms and processes. Fueled by advances in new technologies and larger patient-control cohorts, the landscape in the genetics of these and similar diseases has drastically changed, revising existing knowledge. Big data analysis is an integral part of these advances on the way to discovering disease genes. NDAL has been a member of several large international Consortiums since its establishment, and is currently part of three multi-national collaborations: the Project MinE on ALS and two Ataxia Consortiums.

Having trained six post-doctoral researchers, nine doctoral students, and twenty master students from 2005 to 2018, NDAL also employs two full-time administrative assistants, a lab coordinator and a technical assistant, and provides many undergraduate students with research experience. Among the most highly-respected specialists of ALS and motor neuron development in the field, Prof. Robert Brown (UMASS, USA) and Prof. Jeffrey Macklis (Harvard University, USA) have served as academic advisors to NDAL since its foundation in 2005 and regularly visit NDAL for conferences or to discuss joint projects. The biennial Suna Kıraç Conferences on Neurodegeneration Istanbul, organized with their assistance, gather world-renowned ALS scientists in Istanbul for a three days brainstorming meeting and have been very instrumental to introduce NDAL to the cutting-edge scientific ALS communities in North America and Europe. In the framework of the ongoing structured collaboration with Brown University’s Neuroscience and Molecular and Cell Biology Departments seven PhD students have been trained at Brown so far. The Brown collaboration and the didactic lectures hold by the Brown Faculty in Istanbul every second year have also been very influential in the thriving of NDAL to a center with excellently trained young students.

In June 2018, NDAL moved from Boğaziçi University to Koç University Medical School. The transition of NDAL to a Medical School is of groundbreaking

importance, since a tight collaboration between bench scientists and clinicians has never been as crucial as it is now. Today with its huge number of neurodegenerative disease samples and patient data, with its international collaborations and large scale projects, NDAL deserves to be in a professional clinical setting. Koç University’s School of Medicine, a rising star in the Turkish education system attracts the top students of Turkey. With its recently established Translational Medicine Research Center, KUTTAM, and its young and dynamic Neurology Department, the University is a great opportunity for NDAL's sustainability to further grow and thrive. We strongly believe that NDAL’s new location at Koç University Medical School, along with the NDAL spirit, will boost the lab to further expand in its efforts to play a major role in the understanding and elucidation of the mechanisms leading to neurodegenerative diseases. We are grateful to all people who were instrumental in this transfer.