Mystery of MANF

Hello everyone! My name is Amanda Sandelin, and I am a first-year (soon to be second-year) Master’s student in Translational Medicine. I am one of the HiLIFE Research Trainees of 2022, and I am conducting my traineeship co-supervised by two groups at the University of Helsinki; Mikko Airavaara’s group of Neuroprotection and Neurorepair and Samuli Ollila’s group of Biophysical Chemistry. My interest lies in neuroscience, but I am also interested in structural biology as a tool to help understand the details of what really is happening in our brains.  

The star of my project: MANF 

My projects revolve heavily around one protein, namely the mesencephalic astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factor or, easier said, MANF. Even though MANF is a neurotrophic factor, its characteristics differ significantly from other “traditional” neurotrophic factors. In fact, the mechanisms of action and functions of MANF are still quite a mystery. But why are we interested in this one protein? Well, what is known about MANF is that it has pleiotropic protective effects in various disease models, including Parkinson’s disease, and it is important in human development. By studying the mechanisms of MANF, we can better understand neuroprotection and identify possible new therapeutic targets. 

The next question is of course: how do we study this?  I work both in vitro and in silico, which means I work with cells and by computational models, more specifically human embryonic stem cells and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations.  Vassileios Stratoulias in our lab has established a protocol for differentiation of both wildtype and MANF knockout stem cells into dopaminergic neurons based on a previously published rigorous protocol. Using this setup, we can study the differences between wildtype and MANF knockout cells at different stages of development. In Samuli Ollila’s group, we use MD simulations and NMR to look at MANF on the molecular level and see if different conditions (such as different pH, ATP or ion concentrations) affect the structure and function of MANF.  

My first month 

I have been loving the first month of my traineeship, and I have already had a chance to learn a lot of things and immerse myself in science and research. I have been doing a lot of cell culturing, simulations, experiments, planning, analysis, and discussing and I even attended a conference, where I got to present a poster. Below are some images to really convey the amazing, science-filled month I have been enjoying. Thank you goes out to my supervisors, Vassileios Stratoulias, Samuli Ollila and Mikko Airavaara, and to everyone else in the groups for making my traineeship as great as it is. And, of course, a big thank you to HiLIFE for giving me this opportunity to experience research at its heart! 

Here you can read more about: 

Neuroprotection and neurorepair 

Biophysical chemistry 

Wishing you a lovely summer,  



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