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Songbirds and computer models will improve understanding of how people produce voiced sound and develop speech

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded grants totalling DKK 120 million for 15 interdisciplinary research collaborations to solve complex scientific challenges. One project seeks to understand and develop models for voice control and speech acquisition through neurological and biomechanical studies of among others, songbirds. The goal is to create knowledge that can be used to improve the treatment of people with voice disorders and associated disease.

Some of the greatest research discoveries are based on collaboration across disciplines. The Novo Nordisk Foundation has therefore increased its support for interdisciplinary research and has just awarded grants totalling DKK 120 million for 15 interdisciplinary projects under the 2020 call for the Synergy programmes.

“Many of the most significant recent research breakthroughs have been achieved through interdisciplinary collaboration, in which researchers break down the barriers between the classical scientific disciplines and creatively exploit the synergy and complementarity between these classical disciplines. The Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme and the Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme seek to unleash the enormous potential at the exciting interface between the classic disciplines,” says Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President, Natural & Technical Sciences, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

“Investing in high-risk and novel projects at the interface of classic disciplines creates a fruitful basis for major discovery breakthroughs and innovative technologies,” adds Lene Oddershede.

Under the Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme, the Foundation has awarded grants totalling DKK 70 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. See all grant recipients below.

Increased insight into sound production and speech acquisition
One project that has received funding through the Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme will help to improve understanding of voice control and speech acquisition. Lack of insight into how sound is produced is one factor preventing treatment of voice disorders and associated diseases.

In this interdisciplinary project, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Maine and Emory University in the United States will combine knowledge and methods from physics, neuroscience and biomechanics to transform the understanding of voice motor control among both healthy and sick people. The project will establish complex models, e.g., computer models, based on experiments and observations in songbirds. Studies of the syrinx, the sound-producing vocal organ in songbirds, will help to map the motor control system and the mechanisms involved in voiced sound production. The Foundation has awarded a grant of DKK 11.2 million for the project, which will also strengthen the clinical use of computer-guided phonosurgery to benefit people.

How the brain computes time averages
One of the 10 projects for which the Foundation has awarded grants through the Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme will examine how the brain makes risky decisions and calculates whether the decisions, on average, provide greater long-term rewards than losses.

The project is based on collaboration between neuroscience researchers from the Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance at Hvidovre Hospital and mathematicians from the London Mathematical Laboratory. They have developed a new mathematical model for how the brain computes and assesses risk and reward in decision-making processes. The project will test this mathematical model against neurological data and other models in an experiment in which test subjects play games for money. The subjects will make risky decisions under controlled and measurable conditions while the researchers conduct neurological imaging of the brain’s reward system.

The Foundation has awarded a grant of nearly DKK 5 million for the project, which will attempt to create a fundamental new theoretical framework for the brain’s reward system.

New application round soon
Since 2014, the Foundation has awarded nearly DKK 500 million through the Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme and the Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme. New calls for applications for both programmes are open from 1 April 2021.

Recipients of 2020 Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme grants

Recipients: Søren Paludan (Aarhus University), Trine Mogensen (Aarhus University) & Smita Krishnaswamy (Yale University)
Project title: Novel Principles in Virus Infection Pathogenesis (VIRUPA)
Amount: DKK 14,933,100

Recipients: Erik A. Richter (University of Copenhagen), Thomas Jensen (University of Copenhagen), Edward Chouchani (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) & Wouter Boomsma (University of Copenhagen)
Project title: Illuminating the Dark Redox Proteome
Amount: DKK 15,000,000

Recipients: Frans Mulder (Aarhus University), Slewert Marrink (University of Groningen) & Lene Niemann Nejsum (Aarhus University)
Project title: BOUNDLESS Signalling in Membrane-less Organelles – a New Phase in Cellular Biology
Amount: DKK 14,404,346

Recipients: Dennis Sandris Nielsen (University of Copenhagen), Lise Aunsholt (Rigshospitalet) and Thomas Thymann (University of Copenhagen)
Project title: Prephage-faecal Bacteriophage Transfer for Enhanced Gastrointestinal Tract Maturation in Preterm Infants
Amount: DKK 14,991,753

Recipients: Coen Elemans (University of Southern Denmark), Xudong Zheng (University of Maine) and Samuel Sober (Emory University)
Project title: Burst into Song – a Systems Approach to Accurate Predictions of Voice Motor Control
Amount: DKK 11,285,400

Recipients of 2020 Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme grants

Recipients: Oliver Hulme (Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance, Hvidovre Hospital) & Ole Peters (London Mathematical Laboratory)
Project title: The Ergodicity Experiment: Does the Brain Compute Time Averages?
Amount: DKK 4,960,976

Recipients: Andreas Bentien (Aarhus University), Michael Kofoed (Aarhus University) & Jeppe Lund Nielsen (Aalborg University)
Project title: Redox-mediated Microbial CO2 Reduction (ReMeSh)
Amount: DKK 4,965,291

Recipients: Anpan Han (Technical University of Denmark), Changsi Cai (University of Copenhagen), Martin Lauritzen (University of Copenhagen) & Shelley Fried (Harvard University)
Project title: iVision: Microcoil-based Cortical Implant for Restoration of Vision to the Blind
Amount: DKK 4,991,152

Recipients: Bo Hjorth Bentzen (University of Copenhagen), Kasper Jensen (University of Nottingham) & Eugene Polzik (University of Copenhagen)
Project title: Quantum Magnetometers for Magnetic Induction Tomography of the Heart
Amount: DKK 4,995,177

Recipients: Keisuke Yonehara (Aarhus University), Toke Bek (Aarhus University Hospital) & Stephan Sylvest Keller (Technical University of Denmark)
Project title: BIRD? Biocompatible Retinal Prosthesis for Restoring Visual Computations in Blinding Diseases
Amount: DKK 4,996,374

Recipients: Tom Vosch (University of Copenhagen) & Christopher Richards (University of Kentucky)
Project title: In Vivo Blood Velocity Measurements by Upconversion Correlation Spectroscopy
Amount: DKK 4,997,429

Recipients: Jesper Olsen (Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen) & Marco Donia (Herlev Hospital)
Project title: Functional Proteomics Approach to Elucidate Immune Evasion Mechanisms Induced in Tumours by T-cell Recognition
Amount: DKK 4,997,609

Recipients: Karen Martinez (University of Copenhagen), Christoffer Goth (University of Copenhagen), Poul Martin Bendix (University of Copenhagen) & Mette Rosenkilde (University of Copenhagen)
Project title: Role of Post-translational Modifications in GPCR Mechanosensation
Amount: DKK 4,994,455

Recipients: Bente Jespersen (Aarhus University), Michael Pedersen (Aarhus University), Henri Leuvenink (University Medical Center Groningen) & Jørgen Kjems (Aarhus University)
Project title: Donor Kidney Vitality Prediction and Real-time Therapy Monitoring using Nanoparticles Applied during Machine Perfusion: Towards Zero Organ Waste
Amount: DKK 4,997,658

Recipients: Michael Krogh Jensen (Technical University of Denmark), Silke Sachse (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology) & Guy Theraulaz (Paul Sabatier University)
Project title: Autosect: Synthetic Autocrine Systems for Insects
Amount: DKK 4,738,765

Further information

Kamilla Nørregaard, Scientific Manager, +45 4171 7946, [email protected]
Christian Mostrup, Senior Programme Lead, +45 3067 4805, [email protected]