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First HBPP Workshop Establishes Protocols, Looks for Funding, & Introduces Pilot Projects

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Nearly 50 scientists from nine countries met in Dusseldorf, Germany late last week in a planning workshop for the Human Brain Proteome Project, a HUPO initiative led by Helmut Meyer, professor at the Medical Proteome Center in Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.

Participants formed committees and decided on basic strategies for the project, including which diseases would be the focus — aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s will be among them — and what standardization protocols would be used.

Although certain hard rules were set, the approximately 15 groups across Europe who will participate in the project will be free to accept or reject most aspects of the protocols, which will be based on those established by a consortium of European brain banks called Brain-Net Europe, and on HUPO guidelines. “This is not obligatory — if [individual researchers] have a better protocol, of course they can use it,” said Michael Hamacher, also a professor at the Medical Proteome Center, and treasurer of HBPP.

Hamacher did list two rules, however, that workshop participants decided they needed to enforce. “Pooling is not allowed, and we’d like to have five to 10 proteome analyses [per group, for the pilot projects],” he said.

HBPP will conduct two pilot projects beginning in Jan. 2004. The first will entail differential quantitative proteome analysis of normal inbred mouse brains at three stages of development: 16-day embryos, seven days after birth, and eight weeks after birth. Participants will look for proteins specific to the brain, and for changes in the levels of these proteins at different developmental stages. The quantitative information will then be deposited in a database, which will eventually be made accessible to the public. Gert Lubec, professor of chemistry at the University of Vienna, will provide the mice, and five to 10 brains will be shipped for analysis to each participant.

The second pilot study will involve the analysis of human brain tissue taken from epilepsy surgeries and post-mortem brains. The data from these tissues will be used to build a brain proteome database and to assess protein stability in post- mortem tissue.

Hamacher hopes that some of the instrument companies who made presentations at the workshop — Applied Biosystems, Protagen, Bruker Daltonics, and others — will put up the money for the pilot studies’ tissue shipments.

“We tried to get a little bit of sponsoring for the first part of the project, to ship our samples on dry ice, which is expensive. [Other collaboration activities] are still open — the companies and the groups themselves will have to talk with each other.” Hamacher said that in exchange for sponsorships, participating companies would have early access to the databases the scientists create.

HBPP will not depend on corporate collaborations for most of its funding, however. “All the groups have to care about their own funding,” Hamacher said. “If HBPP is working well, groups can hopefully go to their national governments and get money from them. What is planned [for later] is a lot of lobbying to go to the EU and get money from them, and it may also be possible to get funding from the NIH.” Hamacher is hopeful that these funding sources will pan out. “That’s the advantage of working together — money is rare, but the possibility to get funding rises with participating in such a big project,” he said.

HBPP members will present their plan at the HUPO World Congress in Montreal next month, and will meet for another workshop in Paris in early 2004.

— KAM