Interview with Dr. Bruno Steinkraus, Chief Scientific Officer at Hummingbird Diagnostics GmbH

The EPAD BioRepository team successfully sent 3,000 samples for RNA analyses in Germany. These samples were collected annually from research participants throughout their participation in the EPAD Longitudinal Cohort Study. For more information on how to access the EPAD samples, click here.

The samples have been sent to Hummingbird Diagnostics, a German Biotech. We caught up with Dr. Bruno Steinkraus, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at Hummingbird Diagnostics, and asked him a few questions about his work and our collaboration.

Could you tell us a bit about you and the company you work for?

My name is Bruno Steinkraus and my background is in RNA biochemistry. I currently serve as CSO of Hummingbird Diagnostics, a clinical stage liquid biopsy company located in Heidelberg, Germany. Hummingbird detects small RNA signatures in blood for early disease detection and personalised clinical decisions. Small RNAs – ~20-30 nucleotide short ‘snips’ of RNA – can be thought of as molecular rheostats of virtually all developmental, physiological and pathological processes. We have used lung cancer as a pathfinder indication for our technology but more recently became interested in expanding our approach to address the pressing needs in Alzheimer’s disease. We are currently developing an ADDF-funded Diagnostics Accelerator program to evaluate the use of small RNAs to augment and complement the AT(N) framework currently employed in the diagnosis and management of Alzheimer’s patients.

Could you please tell us more about your work and the research done using the EPAD samples?

We are delighted to have been introduced to the EPAD consortium. As part of their extensive biological material collection, EPAD has included stabilised whole blood. Hummingbird has built a robust small RNA biomarker engine that uses whole blood as input. This perhaps slightly unconventional approach differs from the typically used cell-free plasma or serum analyses and offers two components:
1. Since whole blood includes plasma we do capture cell-free small RNAs that are released from the diseased organ of interest (classical “liquid biopsy”). However,
2. whole blood also includes the small RNA profiles of cells of the peripheral immune system. We believe that the relative constellation of the peripheral immune system and its intracellular small RNA expression levels can be surrogate markers of (neuro)inflammation as well as vascular involvement and thus complement the liquid biopsy component of a blood test. Because small RNAs can capture all of these components we believe they are well suited as biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.

What value to you see with this collaboration? Can you share some of the insights that may have emerged?

EPAD provides a one-of-its-kind resource of the earliest stages of disease while offering deep neurochemical and neuropsychological characterisation of each individual participant. A solid reference such as EPAD is extremely important when developing and establishing novel markers as one otherwise might have two moving targets. We have only just begun to analyse the EPAD data and are exploring small RNAs for different use cases, for example i) amyloid detection, ii) cognitive impairment detection (by biomarkers) as well as iii) the detection of different cognitive levels within patients with similar amyloid burden. The latter might have consequences for patient stratification in clinical trials. We will share a first glimpse of these interesting results at the CTAD conference in November 2022 (Poster LP48: “Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease using microRNAs”).

How do you think the EPAD samples can contribute to the future of Alzheimer’s disease research?

As noted above, the EPAD samples are a remarkable collection offering insight into the earliest stages of disease with deep interdisciplinary phenotyping, including biomarkers, imaging and neuropsychology. It is expected that any strategy stopping or preventing Alzheimer’s has to rely on multipronged approaches and engage the disease as early as possible. EPAD is a vantage point offering these fascinating perspectives.

“The EPAD samples are a remarkable collection offering insight into the earliest stages of disease with deep interdisciplinary phenotyping, including biomarkers, imaging and neuropsychology.”, said Dr. Bruno Steinkraus, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at Hummingbird Diagnostics.

Bruno Steinkraus