The fourth NUBIN symposium was held in the Vrije Universiteit Medical Center (VUmc) of Amsterdam. This biannual symposium has been organised by Dr Charlotte Teunissen and others since 2004. In previous editions the symposium was mainly focused on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). However, we have now extended our interest to other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease (PD), trauma and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This symposium gathered together more than 70 participants from all over the word combining both neurologists and researchers, all with wide experience in the discovery and development of biomarkers in different neurodegenerative disorders.  The two days were divided into seven plenary lectures of 30 minutes each. Additionally, eight submitted abstracts were selected for oral presentations in which novel results were presented. Moreover, a poster session also took place, allowing young scientist to present their new data.

Dr Leslie Shaw opened the symposium with a talk explaining the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). This initiative is focused on the standardisation of neurochemical, biochemical and genetic biomarkers. Afterwards, Dr Davide Chiasserini presented an overview of the performance of several biomarker combinations for PD diagnosis including total and oligomeric α-synuclein, tau proteins and CSF lysosomal enzymes activities.  Both talks were highly appreciated by the audience. After the lunch break in which all the participants had the opportunity to meet each other, the symposium continued with the talk by Dr Philip Scheltens who explained the String of Pearls Initiative focused on connecting Biobanks of the main University Medical Centres within the European Union to improve the research of different disorders including the neurodegenerative diseases. Dr Jochen Schwenk gave a more technical talk explaining the single-binder beads assay to discover novel candidate biomarkers in body fluids. This technique identifies and suggests the best antibodies that can be used for biomarkers analysis after further technical and biological validation. Dr Ales Bartos explained on behalf of the Bio-MS-eu Network how critical the choice is of appropriate control groups in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarker research. The Bio-MS-eu network proposes consensus definitions and nomenclature for different control groups, which will lead to a better comparability of biomarker studies, optimal use of available resources and improved quality for CSF biomarker studies.  Afterwards, Dr Piotr Lewczuk gave a deep and clear overview about how the preanalytical sample handling and storage conditions can strongly influence the quality of the neurochemical dementia diagnosis biomarkers.  Dr Nathalie LeBastard closed the first day of the symposium with a plenary lecture in which the diagnostic value of AD CSF biomarkers was evaluated in pathologically confirmed AD patients.

On the second day, Dr Leonard van der Berg gave a great overview of the current state of biomarkers for ALS. Successful results measuring neurofilament chains, TDP-43 or MCP-1 have been obtained so far although there is a lack of reproducibility; highlighting the need to optimise, standardise and harmonise methods for sample collection and data analysis.  A newly established EU consortium including 15 ALS centres within Europe (SOPHIA) will try to achieve those aims. Afterwards, Dr Michael Khalil switched the topic to MS. He showed how the levels of neurofilament in CSF are already changed in the earliest stage of MS and are related to the level of physical disability. Additionally, he showed a relationship between neurofilaments and disease progression in MS. Karin van Dijk showed her results for the CSF levels of α-synuclein in PD using a robust, reproducible and sensitive time resolved Föster’s resonance energy transfer (TR-FRET).

After the lunch break the plenary lectures continued again with the talk by Dr Saskia Vosslamber who showed how the expression levels of type I IFN-response genes in peripheral blood of Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) patients prior to treatment as well as genetic variation in IRF5, have roles as biomarkers in predicting the clinical response to IFNβ. Then Dr Michiel Petgel gave one of the most valued talks about the use of microvesicles (MVs) as minimally invasive disease biomarkers. He clearly explained how new evidence suggests that disease cells are able to secrete MVs into multiple body fluids. These MVs may contain different molecules that may be useful as biomarkers. His group is currently investigating the genomic content of MVs from different biofluids in order to find genetic markers (as microRNA) that can be used to distinguish healthy MVs from MVs secreted in different patients. Afterwards, Argonde van Harten showed that it is possible to measure microRNAs in CSF, suggesting a potential use of those molecules as biomarker tools.  The symposium finished with the talk of Dr Connie Jimenez who gave an overview of the result obtained in the CNEUPRO (clinical NEUro PROteomics) project in which novel candidate CSF biomarkers for early diagnosis of AD were identified using an hypothesis free proteomics approach.

Oral presentations of selected abstracts were performed during both days which were also much appreciated by the audience. The presenters showed results of biomarker analyses for different neurological disorders. Additionally, the poster session contained presentations of scientific results related to multiple diseases including AD, MS and ALS.  More technical posters related to antibody development were also presented.

The combination of the three types of presentation (plenary lectures, oral and poster presentations) together with the coffee, lunch breaks and evening program, promoted a stimulating environment in which all the participants were able to meet and discuss their work in an informal atmosphere. It has been an excellent opportunity to start collaborations with other biomarker colleagues. In conclusion, in this meeting we have observed not only which stage we are at in the biomarker field, but also how new approaches for biomarker discovery have been developed; and we are all looking forward to the next biannual meeting in which we hope to find validation of novel biomarkers in the different neurodegenerative disorders.