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Better tabs on an insidious infection

Rasmus Hagn-Meincke, 26, is studying medicine at Aalborg University (AAU). He is one of the five Danish medical students who – as soon as it is possible – will be sent to the USA to follow the Lundbeck Foundation’s 2020 DARE (Danish American Research Exchange) Fellowship programme.

Rasmus will be studying and conducting research at Stanford University in California, one of finest universities in the US.

His research seeks to develop a system for identifying the stage of a patient’s chronic pancreatitis based on a blood test:

‘If we can develop a blood test that can do this, we’ll be able to bypass some of the x-ray-based examinations, such as CT scans, currently used to answer this question. And this will be of benefit for a variety of reasons. In the long term, scans damage a patient’s health, but they’re also extremely expensive and much more complicated than a blood test,’ Rasmus explains.

Chronic pancreatitis is a disorder that causes a wide range of afflictions, such as constant pain, diabetes, anorexia, weight loss and altered bowel function.

The disease is usually due to sustained – and high – alcohol intake. Smoking also plays a negative role. However, there may be other underlying factors, including congenital stenosis of the ducts connecting the pancreas to the gut – and heredity can also be a causal factor.

The Danish Health Authority estimates that up to 5,500 Danes suffer from chronic pancreatitis but by no means all have been diagnosed.

The blood test Rasmus Hagn-Meincke will attempt to develop during his research is based on measurements of a range of proteins that act as biomarkers.

It has been proven that the level of these biomarkers changes in people with chronic pancreatitis, and he explains: 

‘These changes were discovered by Associate Professor Aida Habtezion from Stanford University. I’ll be conducting my research in her laboratory, and she will be my American mentor.’

At present, Rasmus Hagn-Meincke is in the process of recording anonymised CT scans, journal information and blood samples from 100 Danish patients with chronic pancreatitis, all of whom were treated at Aalborg University Hospital’s Gastro Medical Department.

He will take both the scans and the blood samples with him to the US, and Aida Habtezion will make sure that he has access to similar data from 100 American patients.

Rasmus explains that taking the blood sample data from one of the 200 anonymised patients and adding information from the patient’s journal and scans should enable them to determine how seriously person in question is affected by chronic pancreatitis, and thus identify the approximate stage of the patient’s disease:

‘This information must then be compared with the level of the biomarkers we’re looking for in the blood samples. Once we’ve done this for all 200 samples, we should end up with a ‘table’ that can eventually be used to link a biomarker level to a relatively precise stage in the course of chronic pancreatitis. And if this is successful, we’ll have the blood test-based analysis that is our ultimate goal.’

Rasmus Hagn-Meincke’s Danish mentors are Asbjørn Mohr Drewes and Søren Schou Olesen, both consultants at Aalborg University Hospital. Asbjørn Mohr Drewes is also a clinical professor at Aalborg University.

 

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