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“Whenever I wake up, get into the car and drive to work, my brain starts to circle around Parkinson's disease and how we can solve it”

“For the first time, I can actually say that I believe we could do a giant breakthrough for the entire field and hopefully change the lives of millions of people struggling with Parkinson’s disease”.

The complexity is his driving force. It is one of the reasons he originally got into the field of brain research.  

“When I tell people that I study the brain their first remark is always: “It sounds difficult, what you're doing”,” explains Lasse Reimer in a laughing tone.

“But then of course people always tend to focus on medicine and whether we are close to solving the puzzle of curing Parkinson's disease. And I've been used to saying no that's not for us, there are so many other skilled scientists out there”.

However, if you ask him today, the answer will be different:

“For the first time, I can actually say that I believe we could do a giant breakthrough for the entire field and hopefully change the lives of millions of people struggling with Parkinson’s disease”.

Not a typical basic scientist

It was not in the cards that 34-year-old Lasse Reimer would end up studying the delicate life of cells, bacteria, and proteins in the brain. Growing up he was all into sports and dreamt of becoming a professional football player. But then he met his biology teacher and the dream of making the national football team slowly faded:
“I remember him as being very strict, but he also gave you credit if you worked hard and tried to solve the biological problems in his classes. The complexity and the difficulty of biological structures really inspired me, and I guess he was the reason that I ended up in biology and molecular biology specifically”.

With a master’s degree in Molecular Biology and a Ph.D. in Biomedicine, Lasse Reimer has purposefully created a career path that brings him close to the biological processes of the sick brain.

Even though he enjoys the mysteries and the specifics of basic science he can’t help seeing the single study as the means to a higher end. In the lab as well as at home he continuously tries to find ways to optimize and see things in a unique way. He admits this is a trait that differentiates him from other basic researchers:

“I feel I'm a little bit atypical. I've never seen myself becoming a professor. Even though I feel it's interesting to do basic science and be a researcher, I also feel the urge to drive these projects further and see what they can evolve into. I kind of like the idea of being the one that solves the puzzle and potentially develops the right treatment”.

Approaching a breakthrough

Lasse is now working as a postdoc in one of the many research groups that are trying to solve the mystery of Parkinson’s disease and the neurodegeneration, that characterizes the disease.  
Researchers know by now that the disease is caused by an accumulation of a specific protein, called alfa-synuclein. However, it is still uncertain how this protein leads to the specific deficits that come with the disease, like shaking and stiffness.   

Up until now most scientists have been focusing on attacking the protein itself, but Lasse and his group are taking on a different strategy:

“Our approach is a little bit different from others. We want to look more into what this protein causes in the cell and then try to reestablish what is going wrong. And so far in all the models and all our experiments, it looks really promising”.

What Lasse and his group have discovered is that the protein leads to an imbalance in the metabolism of calcium, which triggers the degeneration of the nerve cells. Based on this knowledge they have developed a possible medicine based on a specific fungal toxin that seems to delay or even block this mechanism and restore balance. The work was made possible by a large grant from the Novo Nordic Foundation back in 2020 and also support from the Danish patient organization Parkinson’s Association. Now almost three years later the findings seem very promising:   

“I've been working hard on this project for many years together with other skilled scientists. It is work that I feel needs to be performed because we have very good data that makes me believe that this could be a giant breakthrough for the entire field,” Lasse explains.

Now the target of the project is to continue the further development of medicine, so it can be applied to humans.

From scientist to entrepreneur

One specific call in November 2022 gave Lasse and their project just the new push it needed.

As the first young scientist in Denmark, he was awarded the Lundbeck Foundation Frontier Grant and with it, the aim of developing a therapeutic treatment for Parkinson’s disease has become even closer. The grant is the first one of its kind and is aimed at supporting young scientists in the process of spinning a basic science project into a biotech product.

Lasse will be educated in entrepreneurship and be the leader in maturing their project into a commercial product. For Lasse, the transformation from a basic scientist to a bio entrepreneur is a dream come true:

“Hopefully, this grant will allow us to make progress on this very exciting project in a way so we can attract investors that potentially could transform the way we treat Parkinson's disease. So, if everything goes according to plan and according to what we hope, I'll see myself in this project many years going forward.”

“I am going to work hard for this”

Lasse is aware that it is a long haul going into the process of developing a potential drug for humans. Even though they have come far, there is still a long way to go. The first steps will be testing on animals and developing a safety package that takes adverse effects into account. Hopefully, in a few years, the project will have an investor that can help perform some of the initial clinical trials on human beings.

According to Lasse, they are probably looking into a ten-year perspective before an actual drug is ready. But for every step of the way Lasse keeps an eye on the goal:

“I know a few with Parkinson-related disorders that are still at a phase where it is not ultimately destroying their lives. But I have also met patients that are more affected, and this of course affects my view on the need to speed up these things, so we can help as many patients as possible, as fast as possible.”

His hopes are that they will be able to help slow the progression of Parkinson's disease in a way so patients would have more good years before they start to deteriorate. Especially if the disease is discovered in an early phase, it will give the patients many more years to enjoy life.

“Whenever I wake up and get into the car and drive to work, my brain starts to circle around Parkinson's disease and how we can solve it. And I would like patients to know that I'm going to work hard for this and then hopefully we'll be able to make something great that in the end can benefit millions around the world”.