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16 Researchers Receive Scholarships

On Thursday afternoon, 16 researchers within biomedicine and general practice/family medicine are awarded scholarships at a ceremony in Hellerup and give short introductions to their research projects. A total of DKK 83 million is awarded

The research projects of the 16 scholars cover a wide range of topics includingresearch on cancer, cardiovascular disease and wellbeing of children when a parent has a serious illness.

Among the 16 scholarships and fellowships being awarded is one awarded for the first time: “Novo Nordisk Foundation Postdoc Fellowship for Research Abroad”.The four-year fellowship is of up to DKK 4 million and allows a Danish researcher to be employed for three years at a foreign research institution and then return home to continue his or her research.

One of the first two to recieve this fellowship is PhD Peter Refsing Andersen, Aarhus University. He will conduct a research project on the spread of so-called DNA parasites which may lead to cancer and will now spend three years at the internationally recognized Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna in Austria:

“Human beings have developed a molecular defense system that suppresses the activity of DNA parasites, but we do not understand how the cells keep the parasites at bay. If we can gain this knowledge, we will also be able to understand what happens when the defense system does not work,” says Peter Refsing Andersen.

“If you want to do cutting-edge research, you need to be present at the front line.Although we are proficient in Denmark, it is a small country and we do not always possess the newest knowledge. By going abroad you get new inspiration and knowledge of the latest research and the newest technologies that you can take home. This strengthens both your own research and Danish research in general,” he says.

Grant recipients are singled out on the basis of applications submitted to and selected by the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s scientific committees, whose members are researchers themselves and experts in their respective fields.

Lars Fugger, Member of the Board of the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Chair of the Foundation’s Committee on Medical and Natural Sciences Research, says:

– The purpose of the grants is to support research of the highest quality. We target finding the best research projects and wish to give researchers the best possible conditions to perform visionary research. As contributing to improving the health of people is a major objective for the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the research projects can all contribute to developing better treatment of diseases.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Christian Mostrup Scheel, Press Officer , Novo Nordisk Foundation , tel 30674805 , email : cims@novo.dk

THE 16 RECIPIENTS AND THEIR RESEARCH PROJECTS:

CLINICAL RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS (4):
STEEN DALBY KRISTENSEN
OVERLÆGE, PROFESSOR, DR.MED.

Project title: Prevention of Thrombosis in Coronary artery Disease: Novel Mechanisms of Aspirin Treatment
Recipient’s description of project: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death. Aspirin remains the world’s most widely used drug to prevent cardiovascular disease due to its inhibitory effect of platelets – cells of major importance in the origin of acute heart attacks. Nonetheless, many patients do not derive optimal platelet inhibition from aspirin, which increases their risk of heart attacks. Therefore, it is highly important to increase our understanding of the mechanisms causing a reduced antiplatelet effect of aspirin and to identify patients that are not sufficiently protected by aspirin. In our studies we will couple platelet function tests with a panel of platelet-related biomarkers, genetic profiling and clinical follow-up to provide a multifaceted in-depth investigation of novel mechanisms to explain the variability in aspirin efficacy. The knowledge gained from our 22 studies will provide a platform for future attempts to individualize antithrombotic treatment level thereby improving cardiovascular protection.
Institution: Department of Cardiology, Aarhus University Hospital
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

LARS REJNMARK
OVERLÆGE, PHD, DR.MED.

Project title: The influence of the vitamin D-parathyroid axis on health and disease
Recipient’s description of project: Vitamin D and parathyroid hormone (PTH) is of major importance to calcium homeostasis. Vitamin D insufficiency and high blood levels of PTH causes osteoporosis. We now aim to investigate whether these two hormones also are of importance to risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and risk of cardiovascular- and autoimmune-diseases. If so, this may explain why some patients often are suffering from several of these diseases. The studies are performed by several Ph.D.-students at Department of Endocrinology, Aarhus University Hospital and in corporation with a number of other scientists from Europe and Australia.
Institution: Medicinsk endokrinologisk afdeling, Aarhus University Hospital
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

ELISABETH MATHIESEN
PROFESSOR, OVERLÆGE, DR.MED

Project title: Diabetes and pregnancy – Focus on possibilities for prevention of fetal overgrowth
Recipient’s description of project: Poor pregnancy outcome in women with diabetes ( type 1 and type 2) is still a clinical important issue and fetal overgrowth is seen in every second fetus. Fetal overgrowth increases the risk of complications during labour including shoulder dystocia and later in life the infant have increased risk of development of obesity and diabetes. The donation will primarily be used to investigate pathophysiological factors leading to fetal overgrowth and to investigate how optimal diet during pregnancy may have a beneficial effect on reduction of the  high level of fetal overgrowth and the concomitant obstetric complications.
Institution: Center for Gravide med Diabetes, Rigshospitalet
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

KAREN-LISE GARM SPINDLER
MD, PHD

Project title: Clinical utility of cell free DNA analysis in colorectal cancer
Recipient’s description of project: Small fragments of cell free DNA (genetic material) are present in the peripheral blood, and represent both healthy and cancer cells, and thereby the biology of the disease. A simple blood sample can be used to measure the total level of cfDNA as well as test the DNA for cancer specific genetic alterations, hereby providing an easily assessable molecular characterization of the disease. Data have suggested that cfDNA measurement can be used to tailor cancer therapy for bowel cancer. A Nordic consortium will consequently be established to investigate and validate both methodological, biological and clinical aspects of cell free DNA analysis, with the perspective of bringing hypothesis generating results into a potential clinical application.
Institution: Department of Oncology, Aarhus University Hospital
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

HALLAS-MØLLER FELLOWSHIP (3)
CHUNARAM CHOUDHARY
PHD

Project title: Unraveling the regulatory landscape of lysine acetylation modifying enzymes
Recipient’s description of project: Lysine acetylation is a protein modification that can function as a switch to regulate numerous functions in a cell. We previously developed a mass spectrometry-based proteomics method for large-scale analysis of acetylation sites and provided a detailed view of this modification in human cells. In this project, we will use genetically modified cells and quantitative proteomics to investigate the substrates of acetylation-regulating enzymes. Through these systematic investigations we hope to provide new insights into the mechanisms and functions of acetylation in cell signaling.
Institution: The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research (CPR), University of Copenhagen
Size of grant: Up to DKK 11 million over 5 years

ANDERS PETER HVIID
SENIORFORSKER, DR.MED.

Project title: Adverse Effects of Vaccines
Recipient’s description of project: In this project we will study adverse effects of vaccination in the Danish population. Our main focus will be on “newly introduced” vaccines without decades of experience in large-scale public use, and where research is urgently needed to answer an ever-growing number of vaccine safety issues – both spurious accusations and well founded concerns. We will take advantage of the rich resource that our Danish health registers represents and this will be complemented by studies linking biological samples with register data to study the genetics of adverse effects following vaccination, and studies exploring web derived data to identify new safety issues.
Institution: Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens Serum Institut
Size of grant: Up to DKK 11 million over 5 years

WOLFGANG PETI
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, PHD

Project title: Novel insights into insulin signaling and regulation using structural biology
Recipient’s description of project: The prevalence of diabetes is now at epidemic levels. In order to develop new drugs that not only improve the treatment for, but eventually cure, diabetes, we need to fully understand the signaling pathways in the body that drive this disease. The aim of this project is to apply state-of-the-art molecular approaches to study the protein enzymes that regulate insulin signaling (the insulin receptor; the protein tyrosine phosphatase PTP1B) and those that control of glycogen metabolism (muscle glycogen targeting subunit; protein phosphatase 1). The primary technique that we use to study these proteins is nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, the high resolution cousin of magnetic resonance imaging. This technique will provide atomic resolution insights into how these enzymes function. More importantly, though, it will enable us to learn how we can use the intrinsic functionalities of these enzymes to design novel, more potent drugs to fight diabetes.
Institution: Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen
Size of grant: Up to DKK 11 million over 5 years

NOVO NORDISK FOUNDATION POSTDOC FELLOWSHIP FOR RESEARCH ABROAD (2)
ANDERS ETZERODT
M.SC., PHD

Project title: Investigation into the role and use of CD163 as a therapeutic target in tumor-associated macrophages
Recipient’s description of project: Every year, millions of people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer and despite many years of research, cancer is still in many cases a fatal disease. Recent research has shown that the development and progression of cancer is dependent on a cooperative immune system. In the early phase of cancer, when a potential tumor cell acquires the ability to divide uncontrolled, it must modulated the immune response in order to not being recognized by the immune system as sick. Following, when the cancer cell begins to divide to form a tumor it depends on the immune system for providing optimal conditions for the continued growth. In this project, I will examine a subtype of immune cells known as macrophages that seems to play an especially important role in the development of cancer. This project, which is performed in collaboration with national and international researchers, will be carried out at the laboratory of dr. Toby Lawrence at the Centre d’ Immunologie Marseille-Luminey (CIML), INSERM, France. The project will focus on achieving an increased understanding of the function of macrophages in cancer development and will settle the potential of these macrophages as targets for future cancer therapies.
Institution: Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University
Place of research abroad: Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy, France
Size of grant: DKK 4 million over 4 years

PETER REFSING ANDERSEN
PHD

Project title: Breaking down the rules of transcription in defense of the genome
Recipient’s description of project: Almost half of our DNA is composed of so-called DNA parasites – ‘selfish’ genes whose only function is to copy themselves. Since uncontrolled spreading of DNA parasites can result in both cancer and infertility, animal cells have built up a molecular defense to suppress their activity. To identify and shut down the DNA parasites the cells use specific proteins, which detect DNA parasites and function to break the established rules of gene activation. My research project aims to understand how these defense proteins work, which in turn will reveal fundamental new insight into how the most basic dogmas of genes are laid down.
Institution: Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University
Place of research abroad: IMBA – Institute of Molecular Biotechnology GmbH, Vienna, Austria
Size of grant: DKK 4 million over 4 years

EXCELLENCE PROJECT (4)
JONAS THUE TREEBAK
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, MS, PHD

Project title: Role of NAD-salvage systems in mitochondrial function and insulin sensitivity: Implications for Type 2 Diabetes
Recipient’s description of project: In recent years, research aiming at understanding how various organisms adapt to cope with stressors such as aging, exercise, caloric restriction, and energy surplus has unequivocally shown to require a fine-tuned regulation of NAD metabolism within the cell. We will define the role of the NAD salvage pathways in the adaptive response to metabolic stress in various model systems, from cells to humans, to better understand the regulation of cellular metabolism in metabolic disease. Knowledge gained from this project will contribute to our mechanistic understanding of how metabolic stress such as exercise and high-fat diet affects mitochondrial function and insulin sensitivity. This work may lead to identification of targets suitable for pharmacological intervention for the health benefit of insulin resistant and diabetic humans.
Institution: The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

STEFANO ROMEO
MD, PHD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN ENDOCRINOLOGY

Project title: Uncovering new pathways leading to insulin resistance
Recipient’s description of project: Insulin resistance is a disorder of the metabolism which is common in obese individuals. It is a major predisposition factor to high blood sugar levels (i.e.: diabetes mellitus). Some individuals despite being extremely obese are protected against this condition and remain metabolically healthy while some others with a modest excess in body weight become metabolically unhealthy and highly insulin resistant. In this study we will investigate on the genetic predisposition and protection against insulin resistance by comparing healthy with unhealthy obese individuals. We will examine extensively, with the latest technology, the genetic mutations present in the human DNA. Once mutations are identified we will also study the mechanism by which excess in body weight turns into insulin resistance. This study will identify new genetic tools to predict insulin resistance and new drug targets to treat this condition and prevent diabetes.
Institution: Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, Wallenberg Laboratory, University of Gothenburg
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

NIKLAS BJÖRKSTRÖM
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, MD, PHD

Project title: Role for natural killer (NK) cell-mediated hepatic inflammation in progression from obesity induced NAFLD to NASH
Recipient’s description of project: As a recently acquired human characteristic, obesity has exposed a crucial role for the innate immune system in multiple metabolic pathophysiological processes. Fatty liver disease, the manifestation within the liver of the metabolic syndrome, is the main cause of liver pathology in Western societies with a prevalence ranging from 15 to 30%. The reason why patients develop fatty liver disease and progress in their condition remains largely elusive. The overall aim of the current research proposal is to explore the role for innate lymphocytes as key modulations of inflammation during fatty liver disease. New knowledge on the pathogenesis of the next global metabolic epidemic disease will be crucial in order to develop new diagnostic tools and treatment strategies.
Institution: Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska University Hospital
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

CHRISTIAN BENEDICT
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR (DOCENT) OF NEUROSCIENCE

Project title: The role of the fat mass and obesity gene for sleep loss related health consequences in humans
Recipient’s description of project: My research has a simple but important take home message: Sleep matters! If we do not sleep enough – a common feature of the 24/7 society – we exhibit impaired blood glucose control, show addictive-like brain responses to food, and compromise our brain health. The mechanisms underlying these adverse health effects are, however, not fully understood. Moreover, why do some people manage to live with less sleep, whereas others cannot? The answers to these important research questions will help promote our insight into the mechanisms through which poor sleep threatens our health. In addition, my research will also help discover biomarkers that can be utilized for identifying those in our society who are most at risk for the adverse health effects of sleep loss.
Institution: Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University
Size of grant: DKK 5 million over 5 years

POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP IN GENERAL PRACTICE/FAMILY MEDICINE (3)
ANETTE HAUSKOV GRAUNGAARD
PRAKTISERENDE LÆGE, PHD

Project title: Health and wellbeing in 8-15 years old children when a parent has cancer – a mixed methods study
Recipient’s description of project: In Denmark 2.258 children loose a parent every year, in many cases due to cancer and approximately 21.702 (2011) children live in a family where a parent has or has had cancer. Previous studies have shown an increased risk of emotional and behavioral problems in these children and also an increased risk of hospitalization due to depression as adults. Children’s reactions on parental cancer were found to be related to the mental state of both parents and family dynamics. Physical symptoms, health complaints and worries are sparsely investigated, but a few studies have found a considerably prevalence of e.g. stomachache and sleep disturbances. Both parents may have difficulties in evaluating how the child is doing and health professionals often not address the child’s worries. Children with a seriously ill parent get receive less psychology support or support groups than bereaved children. The purpose of the study is to illuminate consequences of parental cancer on children’s health and well-being, when a parent has had cancer for more than one year by including the child’s resources and family dynamics. Furthermore parents’ mental health, worries and needs in relation to the child will be explored. The study is conducted by interviews and questionnaires from both parents and 8-15-yeared children in 10-12 families where a parent has cancer. Subsequently some of these findings will be further investigated by applying data from 100.000 11-yeared children from The Danish National Birth Cohort, where cooperation has been initiated.
Institution: Forskningsenheden for Almen Praksis, Københavns Universitet
Size of grant: DKK 500.000 over 2 years

JETTE MØLLER AHRENSBERG
PRAKTISERENDE LÆGE, PHD

Project title: Seriously ill children in general practice – a study focusing on childhood cancer
Recipient’s description of project: Families with children often contact general practice; mostly because of infection, rash or sports injuries, while children with life-threatening disease only rarely turn up. One of the core services in general practice is to distinguish serious disease from the harmless cases. Identification of childhood cancer among children and adolescents poses a particular challenge for the general practitioner, who plays a crucial role in early diagnosis.  Clinical symptoms are often uncharacteristic, and waiting time for treatment may be long. The socioeconomic position of the parents also seems to influence the time at which the family seeks help – and how long it takes before the diagnosis is made. Yet, only limited research has been completed in the field. This new research project will study the course of diagnosis for cancer incidence among children and adolescents. The results, which will be based on register data, will provide new insights into early diagnosis of serious disease, optimum treatment strategies and better prognosis for this group of patients.
Institution: Center for Forskning i Cancerdiagnostik i Praksis, Forskningsenheden for Almen Praksis, Aarhus Universitet
Size of grant: DKK 500.000 over 2 years

MORTEN CHARLES
MD, PHD

Project title: Type 2 diabetes treatment in Danish Primary Care – Are we reaching the Triple Aim?
Recipient’s description of project: Evidence has shown that primary care helps prevent illness and death, and that primary care settings are associated with a more equitable distribution of health in populations. Therefore primary care has been the core in the development of chronic care models. However, very few chronic care models in the treatment of diabetes have been thoroughly evaluated. The term “The Triple Aim” outlines that improving health care systems required simultaneous pursuit of three aims: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita costs of health care. This post doc project aims to evaluate the effect of a diabetes chronic care model in Danish general practice settings on three outcomes: a) Mortality and cardiovascular morbidity b) Patient assessment of chronic illness care c) Healthcare utilization.
Institution: Section of General Practice, Dept. of Public Health, Aarhus University
Size of grant: DKK 1 million over 4 years