21 June 2019

Leading Researchers of Physical Activity and Health Data Receive Prestigious Award

KFJ award

Michael Kjær and Søren Brunak from the University of Copenhagen are this year’s recipients of the prestigious KFJ Award, which they receive for excellent research into physical activity and health data. With the award comes DKK 1.5 million for each of the two professors.

Portrait foto of Michael Kjær and Søren Brunak
Michael Kjær on the left, Søren Brunak on the right.

This year, Søren Brunak, Professor and Head of Research at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, and Michael Kjær, Consultant Doctor at the Institute of Sports Medicine at Bispebjerg Hospital and Clinical Professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine, are rewarded and acknowledged with a prestigious prize from the Kirsten and Freddy Johansen Foundation for excellent research results through the years.

The annual KFJ Award is given to medical researchers, among others, and previous recipients have worked on anything from cardiovascular disease to epigenetics. Michael Kjær receives the clinical prize, while Søren Brunak receives the pre-clinical prize. Both come with DKK 1.5 million.

In the course of their careers, both professors have become internationally acclaimed within their respective fields of research. They have both headed significant, large-scale research projects and played a huge role for research within their field – as evident from their impressive number of scientific articles and citations.

Connective Tissue Plays a Main Role in Injuries
Michael Kjær has always been interested in physical activity and physiology. As a researcher he has, among other things, focussed on healthy ageing, hormones and metabolism, though sports injuries has played a main role in his research career in recent years.

‘I have focussed on the effect on the body’s connective tissue in connection with overuse injuries. For example, what happens in the tissue when you go for a run compared to when you overdo it and develop injuries? We actually do not know yet, but we are getting there’, says Michael Kjær.

For many years, researchers did not believe the connective tissue played a dynamic function in the body. But in the past 20 years Michael Kjær has proved an indispensable resource, determining that the connective tissue is not inactive, but, on the contrary, plays a very important role in physical activity and sports injuries.

’We have always told people suffering from injuries to take it easy, but that is not always the best thing to do. Our research into the connective tissue has given us new knowledge of physical strain that we did not used to have. This has made it easier for us to help the patients. A patient may have to do fewer jumps, but more strength training. To the standard recreational athlete, this research means that we are able to offer him more concrete help and guidance in case of injuries’, says Michael Kjær.

Acknowledgement of the Entire Field
As Clinical Professor at the Institute of Sports Medicine at Bispebjerg Hospital, Michael Kjær helps head the world’s highest ranking department within sports medicine, according to the Shanghai Ranking’s ‘Global Ranking of Sport Science Schools and Departments’. Thus, his research results have not just had been immensely important to Bispebjerg Hospital and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, but to sport science all over the world.

’I was lucky to get to work in a field that I am extremely interested in. This award is a great acknowledgement, both personally, but especially on behalf of the field. It is a large and important field of research, to Denmark as well as to the University of Copenhagen, which after all is responsible for facilitating much of the collaboration between SCIENCE and SUND. So of course I am very happy to receive the award’, says Michael Kjær.

Data Affects the Patient
In the course of his career, Søren Brunak has touched on various fields of research, which have formed the basis of the rest of his excellent career as well as international research in the field. Originally, he focussed on machine learning, artificial intelligence and biological sequence analysis, before dedicating himself to systems biology and big data.

‘It was, without a doubt, a turning point in my career when we started working on health data covering the entire population seven years ago. Previously, Danish health data were often used to study one disease at a time. We are interested in understanding how diseases affect each other and are connected in a lifelong perspective. When looking at the entire population, it is easier to systematise the data and identify patterns in disease development and subsequently use it to create results of benefit to the individual patient’, says Søren Brunak.

Among other things, Søren Brunak and colleagues from Rigshospitalet have used 20 years of health data from individuals to develop an algorithm capable of assessing very accurately an intensive care-patient’s chances of survival. But this use of data and genome sequencing will not just benefit patients in hospitals:

‘If these data are to benefit patients, then of course the information must also be available on the screen facing the doctor writing prescriptions. If busy doctors are to be able to take patients’ gene variants and their impact on serious side effects into account, then complex information must be boiled down to enable quick decision making. It should be as easy as possible, without compromising on precision,’ says Søren Brunak.

Research Field of Health Data Is Expanding
As one of the founders of and head of research at the Center for Protein Research, funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, at the University of Copenhagen, Søren Brunak has been an important cornerstone in the centre’s ground-breaking research into the biological processes underlying human health and disease. With more than 50,000 citations and more than 300 scientific articles, Brunak’s own research has been an important source for the still expanding research field of big data.

’Of course, receiving this acknowledgement is huge. And it may be an even greater honour for me as I have entered a new field. It may be easier to continue doing the same thing throughout your career, but I have ventured into something new. It was not just ‘more of the same’. Health data have gained a strategic importance that few people talked about 10 years ago; they do now. Being part of that is huge’, says Søren Brunak.

The KFJ Awards will be presented on Friday 21 June at 12:00-15:00 in the University of Copenhagen’s Ceremonial Hall on Frue Plads.

Clinical Professor and Consultant Doctor Michael Kjær
+45 38635055

Professor and Head of Research Søren Brunak
+45 20672477

Communications Officer Mathilde Sofia Egede Andersen
+45 23649425