Ten research projects receive DKK 31 million from the Independent Research Fund Denmark

Six professors and four associate professors from Health will now help our understanding of everything from CRISPR/CAS gene editing and the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccination to cardiac arrest treatment, immunotherapy and chronic pain. They have all received grants from the Independent Research Fund Denmark to realise their research projects.

A total of 210 researchers from the whole country and across all scientific branches have just been informed that their research is receiving funding from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (IRFD). Ten of these researchers come from Health, and they will now begin translating their innovative and original ideas into actual research projects.

Lene Baad-Hansen, Department of Dentistry and Oral Health: DKK 2,002,001

Between five and ten per cent of the adult population suffer pain in the mouth and jaws, with a higher prevalence among teenagers. In her research project, Lene Baad-Hansen studies the prevalence of temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD), which covers painful conditions in chewing muscles and joints, and is often associated with headaches in young adults. Gender, age, psychological and genetic factors are already known risk factors, but the question of whether nutrition plays a role in TMD has not yet been studied. This is what Lene Baad-Hansen is looking into, among other things by looking at the mother's diet and lifestyle during pregnancy and also the child's while growing up. The hope is for the project to provide a better understanding of the risk of developing chronic pain, which will probably be relevant for other pain conditions.

Martin Roelsgaard Jakobsen, professor, Department of Biomedicine: DKK 6,174,000

One of the biggest discoveries in the last decade, and one which has advanced science's opportunities for ensuring better treatment, is CRISPR-Cas gene editing. The technology makes it possible to edit the genetic code inside the body's cells. Among other things, CRISPR-Cas editing can be used to insert new genes into a cell and thereby provide the individual cell with unique properties. Martin Roelsgaard will utilise this technique in his project, in which he will add special anti-cancer properties to stem cells and convert them into a type of immune cell called plasmacytoid dendritic cells. These immune cells have some natural properties to fight cancer, and with the help of CRISRP-Cas editing, the cells will be even more capable of activating a battery of immunological responses when they spot a cancer cell in the body. With this type of gene editing, Martin Roelsgaard will produce a super anti-cancer cell that examines the body for cancer cells and initiates an attack when it recognises them. The project has the potential to create a new and highly effective immunotherapy against cancer.

Dorte Rytter, associate professor, Department of Public Health: DKK 2,864,016

Almost 74 per cent of Danes have finished the Covid-19 vaccination. With so many being vaccinated, many people may experience symptoms that arise around the time of the vaccination. This may be due to side effects of the vaccine, but it may also be coincidental. Regardless of the symptoms experienced, the vaccination will often be a tangible explanation and can be mistakenly interpreted as the cause of the symptoms. In May 2021, Dorte Rytter and her research colleagues therefore invited approx. 900,000 randomly selected citizens aged 16-65 to take a survey on the Covid-19 vaccines, and answer questions about vaccination, health, lifestyle and symptoms. With the data she has collected, Dorte Rytter will examine the frequency and distribution of acute side effects following vaccination. She will also examine whether the non-specific symptoms occur more frequently among the vaccinated than expected, based on their frequency in the background population, before they were vaccinated.

Lars Wiuff Andersen, associate professor and medical doctor, Department of Clinical Medicine – Research Centre for Emergency Medicine and Aarhus University Hospital – Prehospital Services: DKK 2,879,892

Each year, around 5,000 people in Denmark suffer a cardiac arrest away from the hospital. Thirty days after the cardiac arrest, only 15 per cent are still alive. During a cardiac arrest, different drugs are normally used to improve the patient's chances of surviving, but it can be challenging to access the bloodstream during a cardiac arrest. A small catheter placed directly in a vein is the standard treatment, but during cardiac arrest it is often easier and quicker to place a needle in the bone marrow. Both methods make it possible to administer drugs, but it is unclear which approach provides the best results for the patients. In his research project, Lars Wiuff Andersen compares the two different modes of access to the bloodstream to determine which is the best for the patients. A total of 736 patients in the Central Denmark Region will be involved in the research project, which will evaluate survival, neurological outcomes and quality of life for patients.

Lene Niemann Nejsum, associate professor, Department of Clinical Medicine: DKK 2,879,837

Metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) is a new term for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). MAFLD is characterised by increased an accumulation of fat in the liver (steatosis) in people who either do not, or only to a limited extent, consume alcohol. MAFLD can also develop into steatohepatitis (MASH), where, in addition to steatosis, enlargement of the liver cells and inflammation is also seen with the risk of developing scar tissue, cirrhosis liver and liver cancer. The prevalence of MAFLD and MASH follows the prevalence of metabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, elevated blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Lene Niemann Nejsum will conduct research into liver cells in relation to MAFLD. Previous research has shown that MAFLD and MASH affect the liver’s microvascular system, and Lene Niemann Nejsum will conduct two studies to examine cell adhesion proteins and the role of aquaporins (AQP1) in relation to the changes in the adhesion proteins in the liver’s microvascular system.

Jens Georg Leipziger, professor, Department of Biomedicine: DKK 2,870,150

Secretin is an important gastrointestinal hormone. Jens Leipziger and his research team recently discovered that secretin also has an important function in the kidneys as a very potent activator for excretion of HCO3 urine in the urine. The team also made the unexpected observation that secretin could stop the flow of urine acutely. This is an unprecedented observation, which suggests a basic new physiological function of secretin. In his research project, Jens Leipziger examines the molecular physiology of the pronounced diuresis-reducing effect of secretin. This may lead to new knowledge about urinary hyperfiltration in the case of diabetic kidney disease (DKD).

Diego Alexander Vidaurre Henche, associate professor, Department of Clinical Medicine – Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience and Aarhus University Hospital: DKK 2,874,899

The development of personalised medicine has become a high-priority social issue. Not least in the field of mental health, where the disease processes in the brain are particularly complex and often make it difficult to distinguish between different mental disorders. According to Diego Vidaurre Henche, we need a fundamental shift in clinical practice, where we do not think in generalised categories such as sleep disorders, which trigger uniform treatments for the entire patient group. Instead, we need to move towards a more individual-based mapping of disease and treatment. Using sleep disturbances as a starting point, Diego Vidaurre Henche examines data from 43,000 human brains via a British biobank. The aim is to grade the unique signatures of individual’s brain activity and to develop a new approach to describing the distribution of these unique brain activities across a population.

Klaus Krogh, professor and medical doctor, Department of Clinical Medicine and Aarhus University Hospital – Department of Hepatology and Gastroenterology: DKK 2,879,206

Systemic scleroderma is a serious collagen disease that causes the formation of scar tissue in the skin and internal organs, with the gastrointestinal system being the most commonly affected organ. In ninety per cent of the 3,000 Danish patients with systemic scleroderma, the oesophagus or bowel are affected and these patients suffer symptoms such as chronic diarrhoea. A significant proportion of the patients have faecal incontinence due to damage to the intestinal sphincter. Treatment of diarrhoea in connection with systemic scleroderma is a change in the diet and repeated cures with broad-spectrum antibiotics. Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment leads to the risk of developing multi-resistant bacteria, and over time the effect decreases. There is therefore a need for a new and more gentle yet effective treatment. In his research project, Klaus Krogh will treat twenty patients who suffer from systemic scleroderma and diarrhoea with intestinal bacteria from healthy donors, with this taking place under strictly controlled conditions. The hope is to improve their intestinal bacterial composition, as the composition is of great importance for the functioning of the intestinal.

Ebbe Briggs Bødtkjer, professor, Department of Biomedicine: DKK 2,877,264

The treatment of certain cancers – including melanoma and certain types of lung cancer – has been significantly improved with the introduction of immunotherapy, which involves activating the immune system so it helps to fight the cancer cells. In many other forms of cancer, similar positive effects of immunotherapy have unfortunately not been seen. Although the exact reason for the differences in the treatment effect is not yet known, there is evidence that the micro environment in the cancer tissue has significance and, among other things, that this effects the number of infiltrating immune cells. In his research project, Ebbe Bødtkjer will examine the mechanisms that limit the immune system's access to and effect on breast cancer. The experimental project is based on a combination of tissue from patients, experimental animal models with breast cancer and information from large databases. The goal is to find new treatment strategies that can strengthen the immune response and the effect of immunotherapy in cancers, in particular breast cancer, where the immune system is inhibited.

Thomas Juhl Corydon, professor, Department of Biomedicine: DKK 2,879,136

In the Western world, diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the most frequent cause of loss of sight in the working population. Loss of sight as a result of DR is a significant health issue, especially in the context of the prospect of an increasing number of patients with diabetes. The present treatment of sight-threatening DR is only symptomatic treatment and does not prevent the underlying development of the disease. In his research project, Thomas Juhl Corydon sheds light on the mechanisms at work in the early stages of DR, which take place prior to the familiar microvascular changes in the retina. Together with research colleagues, he will investigate whether the receptor protein sortilin is involved in the development of DR and should therefore be a goal for therapeutic treatment. Thomas Juhl Corydon hopes that the results of the research will contribute to the development of a new treatment strategy for DR.

This coverage is based on press material from the Independent Research Fund Denmark.