12 Researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Receive Funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation – University of Copenhagen

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20 April 2017

12 Researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Receive Funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation

Novo Nordisk Fonden

Each year the Novo Nordisk Foundation supports Danish research within biomedicine, biotechnology, general medicine, health services and art history at public knowledge institutions. 12 talented researchers at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences have just received funding from the foundation under different categories. We have asked them to describe, using their own words, how the money will be spent and why their research in particular is important.

blå glasfacade med den tekst novo nordisk fonden

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Excellence Project for Younger Researchers Within Endocrinology and Metabolism

The aim of the funding is to support excellent young researchers within basic, translational and/or clinical endocrinology and/or metabolism research.

Christoffer Clemmensen, Head of Group, NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research
Project: Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors in Energy Metabolism

Christoffer ClemmensenCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The research funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Prize for Excellence will be used to outline the effect of the cholinergic neurotransmitter system on energy metabolism and appetite regulation. After just over four years as a metabolism researcher at a German research institution the excellence grant constitutes a fundamental contribution to the establishment of my research group at the University of Copenhagen. Therefore, the funds will be used to kick start an ambitious interdisciplinary research project containing aspects of basic neuroscience, animal behaviour, transgenic models and molecular biology.

 Why is this research important?

Nicotine is a substance that many people – more or less consciously – ‘self-administer’ when smoking. In addition to being highly addictive, nicotine also has an anorectic effect. The biological effects of nicotine are linked to the cholinergic neurotransmitter system, including receptors which the nicotine ‘highjacks’ in order to produce its effect. The research focus of my group is to understand which areas of the brain and which receptor subtypes signal satiety and addiction, respectively, resulting from exposure to nicotine. Insight into these systems may open doors to more effective treatment of both obesity and addiction to smoking.

Katrine Schjoldager, Assistant Professor
Copenhagen Center for Glycomics at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen

Project: Novel proteoforms of peptide hormones provide exciting options for improving drug design

Katrine SchjoldagerCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The funding enables me to follow up on a series of exciting new discoveries across endocrinological research and glycobiology. Concretely, the money will go to laboratory operations and to hiring a set of helping hands.

Why is this research important?

By adding complex carbohydrates (sugars) to proteins, the cells of the body are able to multiply the form and function of proteins. We have just discovered that some biologically active peptides, which regulate important physiological functions such as appetite and blood pressure, are decorated with sugars, and the project aims to outline the prevalence hereof and to understand the biological and pharmacological functional significance of sugars on biologically active peptides.

Katrine Schjoldager

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The Tandem Programme

The Tandem Programme supports a collaboration between a basic and a clinical head of research in order to increase the translation of fundamental research into clinical practice and vice versa.

Hans Bisgaard, Professor,Danish Pediatric Asthma Center
Søren J. Sørensen, Professor, Department of Biology
Projekt: Deciphering the causal mechanisms linking the early life microbiome and common chronic inflammatory diseases

Hans BisgaardCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

Our hypothesis is that the human bacterial composition in e.g. the intestine and respiratory tract plays a main role in the early stages of the development of chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma and allergies. We want to identify both beneficial and harmful bacterial compositions and to understand their function in the body by identifying all bacterial nuisances in collected samples from children who are monitored closely. From pregnancy through childhood.

 

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Why is this research important?

We wish to develop probiotics consisting of health-promoting bacteria and then to conduct a controlled study of newborn babies with a view to identifying causal connections. We thereby expect to contribute to preventing asthma and allergies, which are the most frequent chronic inflammatory diseases in children.

Hans Bisgaard

Søren J. Sørensen

Nanna MacAulay, Center for Neuroscience
Marianne Juhler, Neurokirurgisk klinik, Rigshospitalet 
Project: Hydrocephalus patients - novel approaches towards telemetric monitoring and pharmacological management of the intracranial pressure

Nanna MacAulayCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

Imbalance in brain fluids has serious consequences. We therefore need to understand what controls the production of fluids. The funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation will be spent on a translational research collaboration with Consultant Doctor and Professor Marianne Juhler (Department of Neurosurgery, Rigshospitalet). The aim of the project is to identify the molecular mechanisms underlying the secretion of brain fluid and their deregulation in hydrocephalus patients (water in the head).

Marianne Juhler

Why is this research important?

We have yet to identify the molecular mechanisms controlling the water balance of the brain, and therefore hydrocephalus is treated surgically. During the operation a ‘valve’ is attached to the ventricular system in the brain. This ‘valve’ has an average service life of two years, and the patients are therefore subjected to repeated neurosurgical operations throughout life. We want to set possible molecular targets for future pharmacological treatment of hydrocephalus patients, possibly as a supplement to neurosurgical operation.

Marianne Juhler

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The Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research Abroad

The fellowship supports young, ambitious researchers with a postdoctoral fellowship for conducting research within bioscience or basic biomedicine outside of Denmark.

Dmitry Postnov, Postdoc 
Project: Optical biopsy: A new tool for early diagnostics of cardiovascular related diseases

Dmitry Postnov

Congratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The purpose of funded project is to develop and apply a novel concept of “optical vascular biopsy” being a noninvasive technique for diagnostics of cardiovascular abnormalities using optical imaging. We wish to apply these techniques for early diagnostics and study of vascular abnormalities in development of hypertension and diabetic pathologies. For the first three years I will join D.A. Boas research groups at Harvard University and at new the Center for Neurophotonics in Boston University. For the last year I will come back to the BMI here at the Faculty of health and Medical Sciences.

Why is this research important?

Abnormalities in structural and functional changes of vascular networks are associated with various diseases, including hypertension and diabetes.  Traditional way of vessel properties estimation normally requires invasive biopsy, which cannot be used in routine clinical settings for regular monitoring of patient condition. Development of noninvasive optical biopsy will provide a powerful tool for research of disease in development. Furthermore it can become a novel diagnostic technology, which will allow day to day monitoring of microvasculature condition for patients with cardiovascular related diseases. Such monitoring will reduce disability risks and will lead to better well-being of patients.

Dmitry Postnov

Maria Hauge, NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research
Project: Expression and function of the fatty acid receptor FFAR1 in mitochondria

Maria HaugeCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The money will be spent on wages and materials – the first three years at Columbia University in Jonathan Javitch’s laboratory followed by one year in the Metabolism Center here at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. The project will examine proteins called receptors, which are usually found on the surface of the cells and their prevalence inside the cell on mitochondria, which constitute the cell’s power house.

Why is this research important?

This research is important because receptors are the most common drug target, and it therefore affects the possible impact of a given drug, if it also changes the energy balance in the cell. The project can therefore change our understanding of the effect of receptors on the cell and thus our ability in the future to tailor drugs to penetrate the cell membrane in order to have the desired effect.

Maria Hauge

Christian Ebbesen, Center for Neuroscience
Project: Oxytocin and hormonal control of neural circuits for social touch

Christian EbbesenCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The money will be spent on examining the role of the hormone oxytocin in the brain’s social behaviour network. I will be doing this research at the laboratory of Robert C. Froemke at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City – one of the world’s absolute leading oxytocin laboratories. We will focus on social physical contact between mother mice and their offspring and examine how physical contact between mother and offspring is represented in the cerebral cortex and how oxytocin modulates the brain’s coding of social behaviour.

Why is this research important?

Social interactions such as couple formation and rearing of offspring represent main aspects of the life patterns of both humans and animals. Positive interaction between parent and child is critical to the child’s development, and child neglect can have drastic consequences for the physical and mental health of the child. The hormone oxytocin has shown promising results in the treatment of mental conditions characterised by social disturbances, but the potential of treatment with oxytocin is limited until we have gained a better understanding of the effect of the hormone on the brain.

Marie Aare Bentsen, NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research
Project: Identification of brain mechanisms underlying diabetes remission and pathogenesis

Marie Aare BentsenCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The money will be spent researching the role of the brain in blood sugar regulation. The main part of the research project will be conducted at the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence, which is part of the University of Washington School of Medicine, and supervised by Professor M. W. Schwartz. His research group has recently shown that continued normalisation of blood sugar levels in rodents with type 2 diabetes can be gained through a single dose of the peptide FGF-1 to the brain. The aim of the postdoctoral project is to identify the brain cells involved in the normalisation of blood sugar levels and how.

Why is this research important?

According to the World Health Organization, type 2 diabetes has developed into a world-wide epidemic. We know that medicinal therapy and lifestyle changes can slow down, but not prevent the progression of the disease. The research will examine the hypothesis that certain circulations in the brain are dysfunctional in type 2 diabetes patients and that FGF-1 improves this dysfunction without affecting the same circulations in non-diabetic rodents. The research may thus prove relevant to the future prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Marie Aare Bentsen

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Exploratory Pre-seed Grant

The Exploratory Pre-Seed Programme was established to stimulate entrepreneurship and to explore the commercial potential of research results at an early stage.

Anja Groth, Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen
Project: TONSL

Anja GrothCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The aim of the project is to design and develop small molecule inhibitors against the DNA repair protein complex TONSL-MMS22L, which could be used as a new strategy in the treatment of cancer. We will design and develop molecule candidates, which will be tested for their ability to block the function of TONSL-MMS22L. The aim is to achieve proof of principle and to identify so-called leads, which may be further developed into new cancer medicine.

Why is this research important?

Cancer cells divide rapidly and often show high levels of so-called replication stress, which makes them dependent on DNA repair mechanisms for survival. The TONSL-MMS22L protein complex is vital to the repair of DNA damages and thus represents a possible target for cancer treatment. With the Pre-seed funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation we are now able to launch a drug discovery project testing this opportunity and translating our fundamental research results into new cancer medicine for the benefit of patients and society.

Anja Groth

Steven Goldman, cand.med., ph.d.
Center For Neuroscience

Project: Progenitor cell-based treatment of glial disease

Steven GoldmanCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

NovoSeeds has provided Dr. Goldman seed funding to explore the potential of stem cell-derived glial progenitor cells in the treatment of both myelin deficiencies and other disorders of brain glial cells. The work already has an extensive history of preclinical animal studies and a strong patent portfolio, all surrounding the production and use of human glial progenitor cells for the treatment of myelin and neurodegenerative diseases. The NovoSeeds funding will support the progression to clinical translation, by enabling the trial preparation and regulatory review of glial cell therapeutics in three principle disease targets, including multiple sclerosis, Huntington disease and the pediatric leukodystrophies.

Why is this research important?

The research aims to identify the expression patterns of the major categories of stem and progenitor cells of the adult human brain and to use that information to define the signaling pathways that distinguish one progenitor from another, as well as those that distinguish brain tumor stem and progenitor cells from their normal counterparts.

Steven Goldman

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Mads Øvlisen Postdoc Fellowships – Art & Natural Sciences

The fellowship supports talented researchers by enabling them to conduct research projects that make a significant contribution to research into art and art history in Denmark.

Adam Bencard, Curator, Medical Museion and NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research
Project: You are not alone: Microbiomes as model ecologies in art and science

Adam BencardCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

Thank you! The money will be spent on a two-year research project at the intersection between art, philosophy and health and medical science research. The project will conduct so-called microbiome research, which is the study of the trillions of bacteria found on and inside us – and which apparently have a greater effect on our state than previously assumed. Perhaps even so such an extent that we need to expand our understanding of ourselves and the human organism to also include the microbial level. The project combines aesthetic theory, science studies and cultural history and brings together artists, researchers, patients and practitioners in cross-disciplinary, open workshops.

Why is this research important?

Microbiome research has experienced an explosive development in the past 10 years. It is still a new and unresolved research area, but it raises a series of questions across the health-related, cultural and philosophical areas: What does it mean if we have to start considering ourselves small ecosystems consisting of both human and microbial parts? How will it affect the way we understand health and treat diseases? These are questions that cannot be answered in the laboratory alone. Therefore, the project examines art practices that have emerged around microbiome research in order to discuss clinical, philosophical and aesthetic perspectives.

Adam Bencard

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Research Projects Within Art History

The fellowship supports research into art history in Denmark and offers talented researchers an opportunity to conduct ambitious research projects within art history.

Jacob Lillemose, Medicinsk Museion
Project: Strange Ecologies. Artistic Descriptions of Nature as a Foreign Agent Beyond Human Scale

Jacob LillemoseCongratulations on the funding. How will you spend the money?

The funding will be spent researching what I call ’strange ecologies’ through the organisation of series of lectures, film nights, exhibitions and other public events. It is a cross-disciplinary study which both includes art and science, ideas and real life and not the relation between them. I am interested in our ‘ecological imagination’, as it has expressed itself for thousands of years. And I am particularly interested in the more speculative part, which considers ecological phenomena, which lie beyond our immediate understanding, because I believe these phenomena represent an opportunity to expand and enrich our understanding of the world.

Why is this research important?

I have a background in catastrophe research, and here I have become still more interested in the significance of the psychological and social dimensions – catastrophes as something that shapes personal existence and social structures. Climate changes will also come to change fundamental elements in the world, and this requires a readiness which I believe art and popular culture can help develop. Of course, we cannot solve the challenges of climate changes as an aesthetic question only, but we cannot solve it as an exclusively technical problem either. We need to include both aspects in the equation.