25 April 2019

CPR receives two fellows in the new translational excellence programme, BRIDGE

CPR postdocs Francesco Russo and David Westergaard both receives fellowships from the new translational excellence programme, BRIDGE. Together with only nine other graduated PhDs, they are the first to be enrolled in the programme that was initiated by a boot camp on April 8. The programme is offered by the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

BRIDGE fellows: Francesco Russo and David Westergaard
BRIDGE fellows: Francesco Russo (left) and David Westergaard (right)

The programme aims to bridge the gap between research and medical treatment by applying new discoveries and technologies from biomedical research to the clinical or industrial environment. Each fellow will be supervised by a mentor from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and another either from a clinically oriented environment or from the life science industry in Denmark.

The programme runs over two years, with 20 percent dedicated time to educational activities including 13 two-to-five-day custom-made courses provided by UCPH staff. The remaining time is allocated for individual research projects.

Big data and neurological diseases
Eleven medical doctors holding a PhD or MSc candidates with a PhD degree for less than four years were selected based on a written application and an interview round. Two postdocs in the Brunak Group at CPR were selected out of 63 applicants.

Francesco Russo performed his PhD in Italy, Switzerland and Denmark and obtained his title in 2017 in Biostatistics and Bioinformatics from the University of Copenhagen, where he continued as a postdoc in the Brunak Group.

"I applied for the BRIDGE fellowship because I wanted the opportunity to do an additional step towards translational medicine, and from a career point of view to get independent funding to establish my own individual research supervised by two mentors from the academic and clinical worlds (Professor Søren Brunak at CPR and Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt at Rigshospitalet)", says BRIDGE fellow Francesco Russo.

Francesco will analyse big data from the Danish national patient registries, laboratory tests and other clinical data in the context of dementia and related diseases. He aims to improve how doctors in the future classify dementia in order to provide better healthcare for these patients – especially during the early discovery and treatment of their comorbidities.

"I always had a great interest in neurological conditions and how we can close the gap between basic science and translational medicine. Now, for the first time I have the chance to really do it. Hopefully I will succeed and do something concrete for patients", continues Francesco Russo.

Clinical collaboration on recurrent pregnancy loss
Another group member accepted for the BRIDGE fellowship is David Westergaard, with his mentors Professor Søren Brunak and Associate Professor Henriette Svarre Nielsen (Rigshospitalet). David performed his PhD studies in the Brunak Group and obtained his PhD in the fall of 2018.

"The BRIDGE fellowship is a completely new research concept in Denmark, and I felt like it was the best opportunity to transform my research into clinically relevant knowledge", says BRIDGE fellow David Westergaard.

The importance of translational research is key for the programme, and David aims to understand and better identify women with recurrent pregnancy loss. Through the integration of electronic health records and genomic data, he wants to be able to identify women that could benefit from further investigations and treatment in order to increase the chance that the next pregnancy will be successful.

"Ultimately, this research could transform the whole area, and prevent a lot of unnecessary grief and uncertainty for the individual woman experiencing a pregnancy loss, as well as the partner and close relatives", David Westergaard continues.

Unique to the programme is also the broad spectrum of educational activities that includes a 2-day boot camp, two annual seminars organised by the fellows and mentors, and 13 mandatory courses such as translational omics and tools, ethics, pharma, and communication. CPR organizes three of these courses.

"BRIDGE provides funding for research, and more importantly, an impressive curriculum of educational activities. This will put me in a unique spot, where I will acquire a particular skillset oriented at translational research that I can integrate into my current and future research plans", says David Westergaard.

The mentor team with both an academic mentor and a clinical/industrial mentor is also very unique and one of the reasons that David applied to the programme.

"For me, it was also very motivating that I would formally have two mentors. One from the academic world, and one from the clinical world. As a researcher from the academic world, I find it increasingly important to engage with the doctors that treat the patient group of interest. My mentors will also allow me to grow as an independent researcher", David Westergaard continues.

BRIDGE is funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and will have in total two admission rounds. The new call opens 2 September 2019.

You can read more about BRIDGE here.