Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Six major research projects aim to solve global technology or health challenges.

Novo Nordisk Foundation awards Challenge Programme grants of DKK 360 million for six research projects

Six major research projects aim to solve global technology or health challenges. The projects, which are each receiving DKK 60 million, include investigating the relationship between ageing and disease and the development of new multifunctional drugs.

The grants are awarded under the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme within the themes Big Data in Biomedicine and Design and Engineering of Biological Molecules and Systems.

Ageing is an important cause of the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and dementia. However, we are not yet able to explain why this is the case.

A new ambitious research project led by Rudi Westendorp of the Department of Public Health of the University of Copenhagen will shed new light on the relationship between ageing and disease using health data from Denmark’s unique official registries.

“The continuous increase in life expectancy and the numbers of years we spend with illness cause profound upheaval to all of us. The project will use modern computer-assisted analyses to better understand the ageing process and learn how to interfere in the underlying biomolecular processes. The purpose of our work is to prevent and delay infirmity in old age, to shape personalized therapies and to live healthier for longer,” says Rudi Westendorp.

The project is one of six major research projects that are each receiving a Challenge Programme grant of DKK 60 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The Challenge Programme aims to support and promote world-class research focusing on current global technology or health challenges. The Foundation awards up to DKK 360 million annually under the Programme, with the themes varying from year to year.

Large amounts of data to provide new knowledge on disease

The Foundation has awarded three of the new grants under the theme of Big Data in Biomedicine. In addition to the grant for Rudi Westendorp, the Foundation has awarded grants to Clive Sabel of Aarhus University and Søren Brunak of the University of Copenhagen.

Clive Sabel’s project will examine whether disease caused by environmental factors is the result of individual cases of high-risk exposure that can damage health or the result of slow accumulation throughout life. Søren Brunak’s project will use big data thinking to study all diseases concertedly, and especially in which order hundreds of diseases occur in a lifelong perspective. Read more about the projects below.

New drugs and treatment

The Foundation has awarded three other grants under the theme of Design and Engineering of Biological Molecules and Systems.

Kurt Gothelf of Aarhus University has been awarded a grant under this theme for a project focusing on developing new multifunctional drugs. Morten Sommer of the Technical University of Denmark will develop new cell-based drugs to treat such diseases as cancer, high blood pressure and metabolic diseases.

Finally, the Foundation has awarded a grant to Dimitrios Stamou for a project focusing on controlling the behaviour and function of molecular systems and living cells with the aim of developing new treatments for such diseases as cancer.

All six projects are being carried out in collaboration with several Danish and international partners.

 

About the projects

 

Theme

Big Data in Biomedicine

 

Grant recipient

Clive Sabel, Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University

Project title

Big Data Centre for Environment and Health

Co-applicants

Ole Hertel, Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University

Torben Sigsgaard, Professor, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University

Carsten Bøcker Pedersen, Professor, Department of Economics, Aarhus University

Clive Sabel says, “Exposure to many environmental factors is damaging our health, but is illness a result of individual cases of high-risk exposure that can damage health or the result of slow accumulation throughout life? And is the effect boosted by the combination of environmental factors? These are some of the questions that the Big Data Centre for Environment and Health wants to answer. In recent years, the big data revolution in registries of pharmaceutical, environmental and demographic factors and the opportunity to collect data from personal sensors and social media provide unique potential for understanding the complex interactions between polluting substances and people’s health.”

Grant recipient

Søren Brunak, Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen

Project title

Big Life-course Data Analytics for Understanding Disease Initiation and Progression in Diabetes and its Complications

Co-applicants

Henrik Ullum, Professor, Department of Clinical Medicine, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen

Laust Hvas Mortensen, Associate Professor, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen

Ewan Birney, Director, European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), United Kingdom

Søren Brunak says, ”The project uses big data thinking to study all diseases concertedly, and especially in which order hundreds of diseases occur in a lifelong perspective. This includes large quantities of data from healthy individuals, such as from blood donors in Denmark and abroad who have consented to their data being analysed. The project focuses especially on diabetes and on understanding the transition from health to disease and the many alternative patient pathways that can lead to diabetes. The research will contribute to creating a knowledge base for new types of personal treatment and, in purely technical terms, it will also create new secure frameworks for health data analysis and storage. The infrastructure may subsequently be used at hospitals to improve personalized treatment of individual patients.”

Grant recipient

Rudi Westendorp, Professor, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen

Project title

Harnessing the Power of Big Data to Address the Societal Challenge of Aging

Co-applicants

Niels Ploug, Director of Social Statistics, Statistics Denmark

Thomas Kirkwood, Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen

Lene Juel Rasmussen, Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen

Rudi Westendorp says, ”I want to bring together a group of excellent researchers with various types of expertise to make the best out of the exceptional data on health and disease that are stored within Denmark’s official registries. Within a tight legal and ethical framework, we will use modern computer-assisted analyses to better understand the aging process and learn how to interfere in the underlying biomolecular processes. The purpose of our work is to prevent and delay infirmity in old age, to shape personalized therapies and to live healthier for longer.”

Theme

Design and Engineering of Biological Molecules and Systems

Grant recipient

Morten Sommer, Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark

Project title

Center for Advanced Microbiome Therapeutics

Co-applicants

Fredrik Bäckhed, Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen

Max Nieuwdorp, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Tine Rask Licht, Professor, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark

Morten Sommer says, ”Bacteria are naturally present in the human body and affect our health both positively and negatively. Despite their potential roles as targets for treating various diseases, manufacturing targeted medicine is still a major challenge. The purpose of the project is to use the latest developments in synthetic biology to solve this problem. In particular, synthetic biology tools will be developed to construct a new form of cell-based medicine that will be capable of capturing signals from the human body and begin to produce relevant therapeutic molecules. If we succeed, we expect that this approach can be used widely to treat numerous diseases, including cancer, high blood pressure and metabolic diseases.”

Grant recipient

Kurt Gothelf, Professor, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center and Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University

Project title

Center for Multifunctional Biomolecular Drug Design (CEMBID)

Co-applicants

Jørgen Kjems, Professor, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center, Aarhus University

Ken Howard, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center, Aarhus University

Tony Lahoutte, Professor, Department of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital Brussels and Vrije University Brussels, Belgium

Kurt Gothelf says, ”Most drugs used today have only one mechanism of action, and manufacturing drugs with several functions is both difficult and expensive. The aim of the project is to carry out research on new drugs with several mechanisms of action. We will develop methods to construct modules of various proteins and small molecules that can be simply and effectively combined into multifunctional drugs. This will pave the way for new types of drugs that are both more effective, have fewer side-effects, and can be tailored to individual patients.”

Grant recipient

Dimitrios Stamou, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen

Project title
Center for Geometrically Engineered Cellular Systems

Co-applicants

Jay T. Groves, Professor, College of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, United States

Orion Weiner, Professor, Cardiovascular Research Institute, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, United States

Dimitrios Stamou says, ”Cells are the ultimate unit of life. In order to be able to adapt, grow and reproduce, cells are composed of myriads of molecules arranged in very precise patterns. These patterns are absolutely crucial for cell function and survival. Here we propose to engineer these molecular patterns to achieve unprecedented control over the behaviour and function of living cells. Our work will have a broad impact on healthcare by making fundamental contributions to cancer treatment and drug development in general.”

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is an independent Danish foundation with corporate interests that has two objectives: 1) to provide a stable basis for the commercial and research activities of the companies in the Novo Group; and 2) to support scientific, humanitarian and social causes.

The vision of the Foundation is to contribute significantly to research and development that improves the health and welfare of people. Since 2010, the Foundation has donated more than DKK 15 billion (€2.0 billion), primarily for research at public institutions and hospitals in Denmark and the other Nordic countries and for the treatment and prevention of diabetes. Read more at www.novonordiskfoundation.com.

Further information

Christian Mostrup Scheel, Senior Press Officer, Novo Nordisk Foundation, phone: +45 3067 4805, cims@novo.dk