Fellowships enable talented researchers to work at leading research institutions abroad

03 Jul 2019

Fellowships enable talented researchers to work at leading research institutions abroad

03 Jul 2019

Over the next year, four talented biomedical researchers will have a unique opportunity to broaden their horizons and test their research theories at research institutions outside Denmark, having received a postdoctoral fellowship for research abroad from the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The unique 4-year fellowships are awarded to enable researchers to improve their skills and obtain international experience at a research institution abroad for at least 3 years while remaining affiliated with an institution in Denmark. This connection is designed to ensure that the young researchers can return to Denmark in the fourth year of their fellowship with their new knowledge and experience and start to establish an independent research career.

“Travelling abroad and becoming familiar with and learning from other research and teaching environments and cultures leads to both professional and personal development. This strengthens the competencies, networks and unique research profiles of these young people and creates new energy and value for the research institutions to which they return,” says Niels-Henrik von Holstein-Rathlou, Head of Biomedicine and Health Sciences, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Read more about the Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Novo Nordisk Foundation here.

All four projects focus on understanding basic biological processes in the body. In the long term, the new knowledge can contribute to improving or developing treatment methods for various diseases, including heart diseases and cancer.

The four 2019 fellows all have a PhD degree from a university in Denmark and will be joining leading research institutions in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden.

All recipients of the fellowships were selected based on applications submitted under the Foundation’s Postdoc Fellowship for Research Abroad – Bioscience & Basic Biomedicine programme. The Committee on Bioscience and Basic Biomedicine, whose members are researchers and experts in the relevant fields, selected the successful applicants.

The fellowships were officially awarded to the recipients at a reception held at the Foundation’s offices. Read more here.

Photo caption: The four fellowship recipients with Birthe Brandt Kragelund, Chair of the Committee (from left to right): William Joyce, Peter Thorslund Haahr, Cagla Sahin, Birthe Brandt Kragelund and Melek Cemre Manav.

The fellows and their projects

Peter Thorlund Haahr
Age: 32 years old
Granted amount: DKK 3,986,925 over 4 years
Danish host institution: University of Copenhagen
Foreign Institution: The Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI), Holland.
Title of project: Charting the genetic landscape of replication stress using haploid genetics
Peter says on the project: “Cancer, a disease characterized by the uncontrolled division of malignant cells, is a leading cause of death world-wide. In order to proliferate and divide, cancer cells need to copy their genetic material via a delicate process called DNA replication. Rapid cancer cell growth is associated with stressed DNA replication, a condition that potentially can lead to ‘catastrophic’ cell death. However, cancer cells employ multiple strategies, of which many are still unknown, to protect themselves from ‘replication catastrophe’ and cell death. This is often described as an Achilles heel of cancer, as targeting these protective mechanisms could selectively unleash cancer cell death and provide a powerful treatment strategy in the clinic. My project aims to unravel the mechanisms that protect cancer cells from replication stress by using advanced cell-based screening technologies. Hence, the findings of this project may pave the way for future development of new cancer therapies.”

Melek Cemre Manav
Age: 30 years old
Granted amount: DKK 3,998,207 over 4 years
Danish host institution: Aarhus University
Foreign institution: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, UK
Title of project: Cryo-electron microscopy and functional studies of targeted deadenylation complex: Insights into mRNA deadenylation at the molecular level
Cemre says on the project: “The first step in gene expression is transcription, which involves copying a DNA sequence to create an RNA molecule. Then, messenger-RNA (mRNA) is synthesized, which carries the instructions from the DNA to the rest of the cell. Mature mRNA carries a poly-adenosine [poly(A)] tail that stabilizes it. Poly(A)mRNA is then transported into the cytoplasm, where it delivers its message for expressing the gene. The cytoplasm is also where the mRNA is degraded when it is no longer needed. This begins at the 3’-end where the poly(A) tail is located. Several enzymes and RNA-binding proteins are involved in shortening the tail, including Ccr4-Not, Pab1, and TTP. However, the mechanism for how these proteins work together remains unclear. Understanding this process in detail will provide information on how gene expression is controlled and develop treatments for human diseases such as heart defects and bone marrow disease.”

William Joyce
Age: 27 years old
Granted amount: DKK 3,924,561 over 4 years
Danish host institution: Aarhus University
Foreign institutions: University of Ottawa and University of Guelph, Canada
Title of project: The evolution of adrenergic regulation of heart performance: a comparative perspective
William says on the project: “Cardiac contraction is triggered when calcium activates protein motors (myofilaments) in heart muscle. The calcium sensitivity of myofilaments is thus a crucial determinant of heart performance and altered calcium sensitivity is a hallmark of heart failure. There is a dearth of information on how myofilaments are regulated in animals, in which the proteins exhibit conspicuous structural differences that have changed during evolution, but I propose a deeper understanding will reveal secrets with therapeutic potential. In this project I will compare how the proteins that influence myofilament calcium sensitivity are regulated by adrenaline in diverse animals: fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. I will first study heart preparations to detail how the changes in myofilament calcium sensitivity affect contractility, and later I will investigate heart function in living animals. This will elucidate the molecular pathways that can be pharmaceutically targeted to help treat heart disease.”

Cagla Sahin
Age: 28 years old
Granted amount: DKK 3,640,073 over 4 years
Danish host institution: University of Copenhagen
Foreign institution Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
Title of project: The superstructural biology of RNA-binding amyloid-like proteins in neurodegeneration and memory formation
Cagla says on the project: “Inside cells, proteins are busy fulfilling specific tasks by binding to other molecules, and wrong interactions can lead to disease. When the brain stores information, certain proteins self-assemble together with other molecules into large scaffolds that bind copies of different genes. These scaffolds bear a striking resemblance to protein assemblies called “amyloid” that are a hallmark of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Despite being similar, one protein family forms functional, “good” structures, and the other pathogenic, “bad” ones. Here, we use mass spectrometry, a technique that allows us to weigh proteins and, in this manner, follow their interactions, to understand what makes protein assemblies in the brain bad or good. Which parts of the proteins bind together? Can we interfere with these interactions? Do assembled proteins still bind the same partners? Answering these questions will help us to better understand the relationship between normal brain function and disease.”

Further information

Christian Mostrup Scheel, Senior Press Officer, phone: +45 3067 4805,

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded postdoctoral fellowships to four talented young researchers to work on biomedical projects at leading research institutions abroad.