How do you design drugs with fewer side effects? And how can you stimulate the brain using a weak electric current or ultrasound? These are a few of the topics covered by a number of scientific research projects that the Lundbeck Foundation has recently decided to support with grants totalling DKK 100 million.
There are 20 projects in all, and each receive DKK 5 million from the Ascending Investigators grant programme. The aim of this programme is to support established, experienced and talented scientific researchers, to boost their careers and, potentially, to make a significant contribution to biomedical science.
The Lundbeck Foundation received 115 applications. Eleven of the 20 projects that ended up receiving funding relate to various aspects of brain research.
Three of the 20 research grants go to researchers at Danish hospitals. Another three were given to researchers at Statens Serum Institut. And the last 14 go to researchers at Danish universities.
The following scientists/projects have each received DKK 5 million:
Bjarke Feenstra, senior research scientist, Statens Serum Institut, will investigate whether genetic factors determine which children develop febrile seizures, and how this affects their risk of developing epilepsy in later life.
Tine Jess, professor MD DMSc, Statens Serum Institut, will investigate the links between chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and psychiatric disorders.
Anders Hviid, senior scientist, Statens Serum Institut, will examine large volumes of anonymised health data to elucidate the safety of childhood immunisation programmes. The background for his project is the growing international tendency among parents to opt out of childhood vaccination programmes. According to the WHO, this now poses a serious threat to public health.
Nanna MacAulay, Department of Neuroscience, University of Copenhagen, will seek to identify the mechanisms that cause humans to form more spinal fluid at night. The spinal fluid – also called cerebrospinal fluid – is thought to ‘cleanse’ the brain of waste products while we sleep.
Anja Tatiana Ramstedt Jensen, Department of Immunology and Microbiology, University of Copenhagen, will be studying the relationship between malaria and brain disorders in children. One per cent of all children who contract malaria develop a brain disease, and in children this often leads to severe mental disability or death.
Axel Thielscher, associate professor, Danish Center for Magnetic Resonance, Hvidovre Hospital, will seek to develop a system to personalise transcranial brain stimulation (TBS). TBS involves stimulating the brain with, for example, a weak electric current or ultrasound. It is thought that, in time, TBS may have significant potential for treating neuropsychiatric disorders.
David E. Gloriam, professor, Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen, will examine side effects from drugs in his research project. He will seek to uncover the mechanisms that allow new drugs to be directed toward the right signals in the body’s cells, thereby reducing the incidence of side effects from drugs.
Hans Heugh Wandall, professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen, will study the role of a particular type of sugar molecules, glycans, in the formation of nerve tissue in humans. This knowledge may have an impact on the understanding of diseases of the nervous system, including the possibilities of medical intervention.
Kim Furbo Rewitz, associate professor, Cell & Neurobiology, University of Copenhagen, will conduct his research on signal exchanges between the gut and the brain, focusing on factors affecting behaviour in people with psychological disorders. The study will seek to elucidate how signals from the gut can affect sleep, learning, memory and aggression.
Kyoung Jae Won, associate professor, Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen, will in his research project seek to expand understanding of the disease mechanisms behind colon cancer – in terms of both cell changes and gene expression. Colon cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide.
Pontus Gourdon, associate professor, Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, will study specific membrane protein structures relevant to diseases. His studies involve cryo-electron microscopy – a special technique that makes it possible to study biological molecules. It is thought that, in the long term, new knowledge about membrane proteins will have implications for the development of drugs for serious diseases such as ALS.
Anja Groth, professor, Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen, will be studying specific areas of histones as potential points of attack in cancer therapy. Histones are chromosome proteins that act as a kind of ‘wrapping paper’ for DNA.
Thomas E. Jensen, associate professor, Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, will seek to acquire detailed knowledge about how certain proteins help regulate muscle reactions during physical training. Knowledge in this field could have implications for the design of new types of drugs and for the planning of personal training programmes to counteract lifestyle and age-related diseases.
Stephan Pless, associate professor, Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen, will study the consequences of the changes in ion channels that are involved in communication between nerve cells, among other things in relation to pain, brain haemorrhage and blood clots in the brain,
Trine Munk-Olsen, senior researcher, PhD, The National Center for Register-based Research, Aarhus University, is working on a research project that will examine whether we can apply genetic data and environmental factors to predict which women will develop postnatal depression and psychosis – and, thus, to initiate early treatment.
Ole Schmeltz Søgaard, senior resident and PhD, Department of Infectious Diseases, Aarhus University, will conduct research on HIV. The aim is to identify new molecular points of attack that could form the basis for production of an HIV-specific immunotherapy.
Christian Bjerggaard Vægter, associate professor, Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University, will use his research to gain information that could pave the way for design of new and more efficient drugs for chronic pain. The number of patients suffering from chronic pain worldwide is on the increase, due to conditions such as diabetes and because there are more and more cancer survivors. Employing animal testing, the project aims to elucidate whether pain signals can be blocked by inhibiting certain supporting cells in the nervous system.
Ulf Ørum, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, will investigate ‘mistranslation’ of cellular information. These ‘mistranslations’ can cause production of an incorrect composition of proteins, which may ultimately cause development of cancer.
Ditte Caroline Andersen, group leader and PhD, Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology, Odense University Hospital, will conduct trials with zebra fish to seek to identify how these fish are able to regenerate heart tissue damaged after a coronary thrombosis; a repair of which human beings and other mammals are not capable. The hope is that, in time, this knowledge will inspire the design of drugs to help people regenerate heart tissue after a coronary thrombosis.
Ane Fisker, doctor and senior researcher at the University of Southern Denmark and the Bandim Health Project, Statens Serum Institut, will examine the real health effects of the way in which low-income countries implement childhood vaccination programmes – and she will conduct a trial in Guinea-Bissau employing modified vaccination routines. Ane Fisker is an internationally renowned expert in this field. In 2018, she was awarded the Lundbeck Foundation Young Investigator Prize.