07 June 2013

Mads Gyrd-Hansen receives Sapere Aude grant

Associate Professor Mads Gyrd-Hansen has been awarded the prestigious Sapere Aude Starting Grant from The Danish Council for Independent Research for his research project entitled “Control of Inflammatory Signaling and Innate Immunity by Novel Classes of Ubiquitin Modifications”.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

I first became interested in the ubiquitin protein and its role in cell biology during my stay at the Institute of Cancer Research in London (2006-2008). Here, I discovered that so-called IAP proteins, at the time known as cell death inhibitors, are able to bind certain types of ubiquitin chains. We demonstrated that the ability of IAP proteins to communicate with ubiquitin enables them to activate the innate immune system and that this in turn contributes to the role of IAP proteins in cancer. Subsequently, I have focused my research on understanding how the assembly of ubiquitin into different types of ubiquitin chains controls a variety of different processes, in particular the activation of the innate immune system.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

A major challenge when studying ubiquitin chains is the lack of methods for isolating distinct types of chains from cells. In this project we aim to develop such methods, which will allow us to determine first, the specific nature of ubiquitin chains coupled to a given protein, and second, the effect that individual chain types has on immune signaling. This will help us to understand how a cell, upon its encounter with a microbe, is able to convey this message to the rest of the body. This understanding is essential because deregulation of ubiquitin-related signals are involved in severe conditions such as chronic inflammation, autoimmune reactions and cancer. I hope that my research can aid the development of new strategies for the treatment of such diseases.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude Starting Grant allows me to initiate a long-term and ambitious research project such as this. The project requires us to develop new methods, which is a challenging and time-consuming process. In essence, the Starting Grant enables me to attract top scientists for a number of years ahead. I expect that this research will help us answer central questions regarding the communication of the immune defense system, thereby positioning us at the forefront of this research field.