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The hunt for a system that will spill the beans on disease risk

Anna Sophie Lebech Kjær is studying medicine at the University of Copenhagen. She is one of five Danish medical students who will be sent to the USA to follow the Lundbeck Foundation’s 2020 DARE (Danish American Research Exchange) Fellowship programme.

Anna Sophie Lebech Kjær will be researching and studying at Stanford University, one of the USA’s finest universities.

Her research revolves around IGF-I, a growth factor, or so-called peptide hormone, with a range of functions in humans. For instance, IGF-I helps us maintain our muscles, bones and heart tissue, and IGF-I is also involved in the regulation of cell growth.

Anne Sophie explains that we produce IGF-I throughout our lives. However, the level falls as we grow older:

‘The IGF-I level will be pretty much the same in most adults, but there’s a group whose levels are a little higher and a group with slightly lower levels. These two peripheral groups are interesting because recent studies show that adults with a high IGF-I level are statistically at greater risk of developing cancer, whereas adults with a lower IGF-I level are statistically more likely to develop cardiovascular disorders. And this is the premise for my research project,’ says Anna Sophie Lebech Kjær.

Asked to give a brief explanation of her project, she says: ‘I’m seeking to investigate whether our IGF-I level remains fixed throughout our lives. So, if we have a high IGF-I level in childhood, does it remain relatively high later in life? And if our IGF-I level is low when we’re a child, does it remain relatively low throughout our lives?’

Anna Sophie says that, if this is the case, it will provide a useful means of evaluating the risk of disease:

‘By taking a blood sample from a child, we’ll be able to see whether the individual is statistically more likely to develop cancer or cardiovascular disorders as an adult. Of course, the blood test won’t tell us whether this individual actually will fall ill later in life. But if we know that, statistically, this person is at higher risk, we can introduce preventive measures in good time.’

Anna Sophie Lebech Kjær will be taking much of the data she needs for her research project at Stanford University with her, and Professor and IGF-I expert Andrew Hoffman will be her mentor.

The data were collected from studies conducted at the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen. The department is run by Professor Anders Juul, who is Anna Sopie’s Danish mentor.

‘Some of the data come from the “Copenhagen Mother-Child Cohort” and some from the “School Study”. In some cases, researchers from the Department of Growth and Reproduction have observed individuals from birth into early adulthood. The aim is to combine these results with American studies,’ Anna Sophie Lebech Kjær explains.

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