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Risk-willing researchers and interdisciplinary synergy will drive major research breakthroughs – 15 new grants awarded

Solving major societal challenges requires great creativity and willingness to take risks. The Novo Nordisk Foundation has therefore awarded grants totalling nearly DKK 125 million for interdisciplinary research collaborations that aim to seek innovative solutions by unleashing the synergy at the interface between the classical scientific disciplines, organisations and national borders.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation recently concluded its 2021 call for grants under its high-risk and high-gain Interdisciplinary Synergy Programmes that support interdisciplinary, risk-oriented and innovative projects.

The Foundation has awarded Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme grants totalling DKK 75 million for five projects based on promising pilot data. A further 10 projects will receive grants totalling DKK 50 million through the Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme, which supports projects with new and untested ideas.

RNA folding inspired by origami
One project that has received a grant through the Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme is inspired by origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. The researchers will address one of the major questions in molecular biology: how RNA molecules fold into their final functional state.

Based on their respective disciplines, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and Leiden University in the Netherlands will develop new artificial intelligence models to build a computer software that can predict the entire RNA folding process and support this with parallel experimental studies of mRNA folding with state-of-the-art microscopy techniques. An improved recipe for the entire complex RNA folding process will open the door for studying the functional properties of RNA molecules, not only in test tubes but also in living cells.

The aim of the project is to provide a unique mathematical tool for designing new synthetic RNA structures for use in future pharmaceutical and biotechnological solutions, such as producing more effective RNA vaccines.

New technology platform will map cells and their communication
One of the 10 projects for which the Foundation has awarded grants through the Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme will aim to develop a new multi-omics technology platform for characterising the activity of cells and their role in disease.

This interdisciplinary project will combine expertise within electrotechnology, bioinformatics and neurosciences provided by researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the University of Lille in France and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the United States.
Their unique technological approach will integrate information about the genetic profile of cells with knowledge of both where in the biological tissue cells are located and how they communicate with each other through electrical signals.

In particular, a “spatial connectomics” technology platform will help to facilitate ground-breaking research into diseases that are influenced by the electrophysiological activity of tissues, including brain disease, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular disease and muscle dysfunction.

Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President, Natural & Technical Sciences, Novo Nordisk Foundation is amazed at the potential of the projects receiving grants:

“With the Interdisciplinary Synergy Programmes, we want to bring together researchers with different areas of expertise in the hope that they will deliver research breakthroughs and innovative technological solutions to the major societal challenges in health and sustainability. We need new thinking, courage and a creative approach to solve the greatest challenges society faces. In many of the projects, we note that researchers from Denmark are joining forces with researchers from other countries and building interdisciplinary bridges to achieve the combined expertise that the problems require. The synergy effects are really evident in the projects receiving grants. We look forward to following the projects in the coming years,” she says.

New application round opening soon
The Novo Nordisk Foundation is opening a new round of applications for both programmes on 10 March 2022.

Recipients of 2021 Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme grants

Recipients: Stine Falsig Pedersen (University of Copenhagen), Albin Sandelin (University of Copenhagen), Rodolphe Marie (Technical University of Denmark) & Ute Resch-Genger (Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing)
Project title: Using Novel Microfluidic Gradient Devices to Drive Genetic and Functional Understanding of Spatiotemporal Gradients in Tumour Microenvironments
Amount: DKK 14,993,529

Recipients: Ebbe Sloth Andersen (Aarhus University), Ariane Briegel (Leiden University), Christian Nørgaard Storm Pedersen (Aarhus University) & Victoria Birkedal (Aarhus University)
Project title: COFOLD – Co-transcriptional Folding for RNA Medicine and Synthetic Biology
Amount: DKK 14,997,268

Recipients: Katja S. Johansen (University of Copenhagen), Andrew Alspaugh (Duke University) & Paul Dupree (University of Cambridge)
Project title: Mechanisms of Lytic Polysaccharide Monooxygenases in Fungal Pathogenesis: Directing Polysaccharide Structure and Metabolism in Cryptococcus neoformans
Amount: DKK 14,995,161

Recipients: Krister Wennerberg (University of Copenhagen), Tero Aittokallio (University of Helsinki) & Kaisa Lehti (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Project title: Understanding and Overcoming Cancer Drug Resistance through Experimental-computational Studies of Cancer Cell Lineage Dynamics
Amount: DKK 14,494,200

Recipients: Kristian Almstrup (Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen), Christina Hvilsom (Copenhagen Zoo) & Mikkel Heideh Schierup (Aarhus University)
Project title: The Battle of Sex Chromosomes: Consequences for Spermatogenesis and Reproduction in Primates
Amount: DKK 14,995,000

Recipients of 2021 Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme grants

Recipients: Torben Heick Jensen (Aarhus University) & Michael Drewsen (Aarhus University)
Project title: Measuring Protein-RNA Binding Kinetics in Cells by Laser-assisted Cross-linking
Amount: DKK 4,998,583

Recipients: Vanessa Hall (University of Copenhagen), Martin Hemberg (Brigham and Women’s Hospital), Yannick Coffinier (University of Lille) & Susanna Mierau (Brigham and Women’s Hospital)
Project title: Development of a Novel Technology, Spatial Connectomics (Spaicon) for Broad Biological Sciences
Amount: DKK 4,996,860

Recipients: Marianne Glasius (Aarhus University), Mikael Sejr (Aarhus University), Johanna M. Holding (Aarhus University) & Merete Bilde (Aarhus University)
Project title: Is Formation of Atmospheric Aerosols Coupled with Marine Sources in the Arctic? AEROMARC
Amount: DKK 4,999,815

Recipients: Associate Professor Sanshui Xiao (Technical University of Denmark), Yi Sun (Technical University of Denmark) & Jan Gorodkin (University of Copenhagen)
Project title: Massively Multiplex Pathogen Screening by Ultrasensitive Fluorescence Spectroscopy
Amount: DKK 4,998,007

Recipients: André Luis Alves Neves (University of Copenhagen), Lennart Bunch (University of Copenhagen) & Tristan Wagner (Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology)
Project title: A Drug-design-based Approach Targeting the Methanogenic Heterodisulfide Reductase to Decrease Methane Emissions from Ruminants
Amount: DKK 5,000,000

Recipients: Rafael Taboryski (Technical University of Denmark), Lone Gram (Technical University of Denmark) & Paul Kempen (Technical University of Denmark)
Project title: R2R Fabrication of Pro-bacterial Surfaces (R2R ProBac)
Amount: DKK 4,996,328

Recipients: Stergios Piligkos (University of Copenhagen), Stefano Carretta (University of Parma) & Fernando Luis (Spanish National Research Council)
Project title: Coherent Addressing of Isotopically Pure Lanthanide Complexes by Photons and Efficient Quantum Error Correction for Quantum Information Technologies
Amount: DKK 4,999,965

Recipients: Barth Smets (Technical University of Denmark), Anders Kristensen (Technical University of Denmark) & Martin Dufva (Technical University of Denmark)
Project title: Combining Optics and Microfluidics to Identify, Isolate and Cultivate High-value Microbes (COMI-CULT)
Amount: DKK 4,985,692

Recipients: Claus Oxvig (Aarhus University) & Thomas Poulsen (Aarhus University)
Project title: Targeting the Hidden Parts of the IGF Axis to Extend Human Healthspan
Amount: DKK 4,999,111

Recipients: Katrine Qvortrup (Technical University of Denmark), Mette Rosenkilde (University of Copenhagen) & Britta Engelhardt (University of Bern)
Project title: Tailored Drug Access to CNS: an Interdisciplinary Study Exploring Solutions for Improved Treatment
Amount: DKK 4,997,406

Further information

Christian Mostrup, Senior Programme Lead, Communications, +45 3067 4805, [email protected]