Ageing is an important cause of the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and dementia. However, we are not yet able to explain why this is the case.
A new ambitious research project led by Rudi Westendorp of the Department of Public Health of the University of Copenhagen will shed new light on the relationship between ageing and disease using health data from Denmark’s unique official registries.
“The continuous increase in life expectancy and the numbers of years we spend with illness cause profound upheaval to all of us. The project will use modern computer-assisted analyses to better understand the ageing process and learn how to interfere in the underlying biomolecular processes. The purpose of our work is to prevent and delay infirmity in old age, to shape personalized therapies and to live healthier for longer,” says Rudi Westendorp.
The project is one of six major research projects that are each receiving a Challenge Programme grant of DKK 60 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The Challenge Programme aims to support and promote world-class research focusing on current global technology or health challenges.
The grants are awarded within the themes Big Data in Biomedicine and Design and Engineering of Biological Molecules and Systems.
The Foundation awards up to DKK 360 million annually under the Programme, with the themes varying from year to year.
Big data to provide new knowledge on disease
The Foundation has awarded three of the new grants under the theme of Big Data in Biomedicine. In addition to the grant for Rudi Westendorp, the Foundation has awarded grants to Clive Sabel of Aarhus University and Søren Brunak of the University of Copenhagen.
Clive Sabel’s project will examine whether disease caused by environmental factors is the result of individual cases of high-risk exposure that can damage health or the result of slow accumulation throughout life. Søren Brunak’s project will use big data thinking to study all diseases concertedly, and especially in which order hundreds of diseases occur in a lifelong perspective. Read more about the projects below.
New drugs and treatment
The Foundation has awarded three other grants under the theme of Design and Engineering of Biological Molecules and Systems.
Kurt Gothelf of Aarhus University has been awarded a grant under this theme for a project focusing on developing new multifunctional drugs. Morten Sommer of the Technical University of Denmark will develop new cell-based drugs to treat such diseases as cancer, high blood pressure and metabolic diseases.
Finally, the Foundation has awarded a grant to Dimitrios Stamou for a project focusing on controlling the behaviour and function of molecular systems and living cells with the aim of developing new treatments for such diseases as cancer.
All six projects are being carried out in collaboration with several Danish and international partners.
Read more about the Challenge Programme and watch films on ongoing research projects here.
About the projects
Theme: Big Data in Biomedicine
Clive Sabel, Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University
"Big Data Centre for Environment and Health"
Ole Hertel, Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University
Torben Sigsgaard, Professor, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University
Carsten Bøcker Pedersen, Professor, Department of Economics, Aarhus University
Clive Sabel says, “Exposure to many environmental factors is damaging our health, but is illness a result of individual cases of high-risk exposure that can damage health or the result of slow accumulation throughout life? And is the effect boosted by the combination of environmental factors? These are some of the questions that the Big Data Centre for Environment and Health wants to answer. In recent years, the big data revolution in registries of pharmaceutical, environmental and demographic factors and the opportunity to collect data from personal sensors and social media provide unique potential for understanding the complex interactions between polluting substances and people’s health.”
Søren Brunak, Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen
"Big Life-course Data Analytics for Understanding Disease Initiation and Progression in Diabetes and its Complications"
Henrik Ullum, Professor, Department of Clinical Medicine, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen
Laust Hvas Mortensen, Chief Consultant, Methods and Analysis, Statistics Denmark
Ewan Birney, Director, European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), United Kingdom
Søren Brunak says, ”The project uses big data thinking to study all diseases concertedly, and especially in which order hundreds of diseases occur in a lifelong perspective. This includes large quantities of data from healthy individuals, such as from blood donors in Denmark and abroad who have consented to their data being analysed. The project focuses especially on diabetes and on understanding the transition from health to disease and the many alternative patient pathways that can lead to diabetes. The research will contribute to creating a knowledge base for new types of personal treatment and, in purely technical terms, it will also create new secure frameworks for health data analysis and storage. The infrastructure may subsequently be used at hospitals to improve personalized treatment of individual patients.”
Rudi Westendorp, Professor, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen
Harnessing the Power of Big Data to Address the Societal Challenge of Aging
Niels Ploug, Director of Social Statistics, Statistics Denmark
Thomas Kirkwood, Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen
Lene Juel Rasmussen, Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen
Rudi Westendorp says, ”I want to bring together a group of excellent researchers with various types of expertise to make the best out of the exceptional data on health and disease that are stored within Denmark’s official registries. Within a tight legal and ethical framework, we will use modern computer-assisted analyses to better understand the aging process and learn how to interfere in the underlying biomolecular processes. The purpose of our work is to prevent and delay infirmity in old age, to shape personalized therapies and to live healthier for longer.”
Theme: Design and Engineering of Biological Molecules and Systems
Morten Sommer, Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark
Center for Advanced Microbiome Therapeutics
Fredrik Bäckhed, Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen
Max Nieuwdorp, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Tine Rask Licht, Professor, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark
Morten Sommer says, ”Bacteria are naturally present in the human body and affect our health both positively and negatively. Despite their potential roles as targets for treating various diseases, manufacturing targeted medicine is still a major challenge. The purpose of the project is to use the latest developments in synthetic biology to solve this problem. In particular, synthetic biology tools will be developed to construct a new form of cell-based medicine that will be capable of capturing signals from the human body and begin to produce relevant therapeutic molecules. If we succeed, we expect that this approach can be used widely to treat numerous diseases, including cancer, high blood pressure and metabolic diseases.”
Kurt Gothelf, Professor, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center and Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University
"Center for Multifunctional Biomolecular Drug Design (CEMBID)"
Jørgen Kjems, Professor, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center, Aarhus University
Ken Howard, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center, Aarhus University
Tony Lahoutte, Professor, Department of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital Brussels and Vrije University Brussels, Belgium
Kurt Gothelf says, ”Most drugs used today have only one mechanism of action, and manufacturing drugs with several functions is both difficult and expensive. The aim of the project is to carry out research on new drugs with several mechanisms of action. We will develop methods to construct modules of various proteins and small molecules that can be simply and effectively combined into multifunctional drugs. This will pave the way for new types of drugs that are both more effective, have fewer side-effects, and can be tailored to individual patients.”
Dimitrios Stamou, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen
"Center for Geometrically Engineered Cellular Systems"
Jay T. Groves, Professor, College of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, United States
Orion Weiner, Professor, Cardiovascular Research Institute, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, United States
Dimitrios Stamou says, ”Cells are the ultimate unit of life. In order to be able to adapt, grow and reproduce, cells are composed of myriads of molecules arranged in very precise patterns. These patterns are absolutely crucial for cell function and survival. Here we propose to engineer these molecular patterns to achieve unprecedented control over the behaviour and function of living cells. Our work will have a broad impact on healthcare by making fundamental contributions to cancer treatment and drug development in general.”
Christian Mostrup Scheel, Senior Press Officer, Novo Nordisk Foundation,
phone: +45 3067 4805, firstname.lastname@example.org