3 April 2018

Six SUND Researchers Receive Funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation

Novo Nordisk Foundation

Six talented research leaders from The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen have received funding of around DKK 10 million each from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The aim of the funding is to ensure that the best research leaders are given a chance to pursue ambitious and important projects.

The grants are the first in the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s new Research Leader Programme. The programme focusses on supporting basic research within biomedicine and bioscience and consists of three different types of grants: Distinguished Investigator, Hallas-Møller Ascending Investigator and Hallas-Møller Emerging Investigator. The grants have been awarded to 12 research leaders on different career levels, including six SUND researchers from the University of Copenhagen.

Distinguished Investigator

The Distinguished Investigator grants are targeted at professors at the highest international level.

Anders H. Lund

Age: 52
PhD: 1996
Current position: Professor, Biotech Research and Innovation Centre, University of Copenhagen
Project title: In vivo investigations of the ribosome code

What is the project about?

The ribosome is the key interpreter of genetic information in all living organisms. However, despite its pivotal role, very little is known about how the ribosome is regulated. The project explores the hypothesis that modifications of the ribosomal RNA are regulatory for ribosome function and impacts on protein translation. Understanding how the ribosome is regulated to tune translation will provide a better understanding of how gene expression programmes are faithfully executed and may provide insight into diseases in which translational control is pathologically hijacked.

Why is this research important?

The project explores how the production of cells is regulated within our cells. It is a very essential biological process that affects our everyday lives and development, but also plays a main role in many diseases. It is my hope that the results of this project will benefit both basic and application-oriented research.

Niels Mailand

Age: 44
PhD: 2003
Current position: Professor and Group Leader, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen
Project title: Regulation of DNA-protein crosslink repair in health and disease

What is the project about?

Many chemotherapeutic agents give rise to the formation of DNA-protein crosslinks (DPCs), a highly toxic form of damage to the genetic material within our cells. This project will explore how the human cellular response to DPCs is organised and regulated on the molecular level and how targeted inhibition of such processes may be exploited in improved treatment strategies for cancer.

Why is this research important?

Detailed molecular insight into the body’s cellular defence against DNA-protein crosslinks is important, as we still know very little about how human cells react to and overcome such DNA damage. Furthermore, it is important because this knowledge may be of great significance to the development of more targeted and gentle treatments for cancer.

Hallas-Møller Ascending Investigator

The aim of the Hallas-Møller Ascending Investigator grant is to support and strengthen the careers and efforts of excellent, younger to middle-aged associate professors in Denmark to achieve their full research potential.

David Gloriam

Age: 39
PhD: 2006
Current position: Associate Professor, Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen
Project title: GPCR-biased signalling: Illuminating the pathways to function and disease

What is the project about?

The project aims to find out how just one cell-surface receptor can elicit vastly different biological, therapeutic or adverse effects when activated by natural, medicinal or abused substances. My department colleagues will integrate pharmacology, crystallography and chemistry, and unique methods will be brought in through leading international collaborations.

Why is this research important?

My group will develop a new database platform in order to consolidate the increasing amount of data in this new field of research and creating molecular models for identifying molecular mechanisms and substances. The knowledge we gain will help us to better understand the receptor’s vastly different responses and develop more safe treatments.

Hallas-Møller Emerging Investigator

The aim of the Hallas-Møller Emerging Investigator grant is to support and strengthen the development of young and promising research leaders in Denmark.

Agnete Kirkeby

Age: 37
PhD: 2009
Current position: Associate Professor,The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology (DanStem), University of Copenhagen
Project title: Mapping human neural lineages in a novel in vitro model of the developing neural tube built with morphogenic gradients

What is the project about?

We use an advanced stem cell model of the early embryonic human brain to study the detailed cellular processes that control human brain complexity during development. With the newest techniques, we want to examine every single nerve cell in our stem cell model down to the smallest detail. We aim to produce a map of how the hundreds of different subtypes of nervous cells in our brains are formed during development.

Why is this research important?

Through my research I strive to understand how each of the hundreds of different specialised nervous cells in the human brain is formed and matures during foetal development. We can use this knowledge to produce human nervous cells from stem cells as cell therapy for neurodegenerative diseases and to find new drugs for treating brain diseases.

Morten Salling Olesen

Age: 44
PhD: 2011
Current position: Associate Professor, PhD, Head of Laboratory, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Copenhagen & Laboratory of Molecular Cardiology, The Heart Centre, Rigshospitalet
Project title: Nationwide study of the genetics behind atrial fibrillation

What is the project about?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common form of irregular heart rhythm. The disease is associated with a fast heart rate and an increased risk of stroke. Little is known about the biological mechanisms underlying the disease. We have identified AF patients with a substantial genetic predisposition. We will study these patients by DNA sequencing in order to identify genes involved in disease development. These genes will be investigated in zebrafish models to improve our molecular understanding of how variations in these genes give rise to disease.

Why is this research important?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of irregular heart rhythm and a main risk factor for strokes and heart failure. The aim of the research project is, through a genetic approach, to increase our molecular understanding of the disease in order to thus improve our chances of developing more effective treatments.

Nicholas Taylor

Age: 31
PhD: 2011
Current position: Associate Professor and Group Leader, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen
Project title: Structure and mechanism of a contractile nanoinjection system and its redesign for targeted therapy

What is the project about?

Certain bacteria secrete large protein machineries that can specifically bind to eukaryotic cells and inject toxins inside of these cells. However, it is unknown how these injection systems are triggered and how they are able to transfer toxins across biological membranes. The great potential of these systems lies in their adaption for targeted therapy.

Why is this research important?

The research is important from a basic scientific standpoint, as it studies how a large family of ‘molecular syringes’ function. They play an important, but under-examined biological role. If we understand better how this type of system works, it might one day be possible to adapt them to e.g. inject toxins specifically into cancer cells, opening up possibilities for more targeted therapies.