Eight-figure donation boosts Danish research into aging – University of Copenhagen

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11 November 2015

Eight-figure donation boosts Danish research into aging

Healthy Aging

Associate Professor Simon Bekker-Jensen from University of Copenhagen receives one of the Lundbeck Foundation Fellowships of DKK 10 million.

Just as the cliffs on our coastlines are eroded by wind, weather and sea, the cells of all organisms are worn down by the processes of life. They age.

"The primary cause of aging is the daily strain on the cell; so-called cellular stress. I’ll be studying in detail how the cell reacts to this stress and repairs itself," explains Associate Professor Simon Bekker-Jensen from Center for Healthy Aging and The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research.  

He has just received a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship. His appointment as a Lundbeck Foundation Fellow is accompanied by DKK 10 million, and over the next five years he will have great new opportunities to research the way in which our cells combat the slow erosion to which they are exposed throughout a lifetime.

The cell repairs itself

It is the chemistry of the special P38 protein that Simon Bekker-Jensen will be studying in detail. P38 is known to activate a large proportion of the cell’s defence mechanisms against stress. The P38 protein is activated, for example, if cells become so hot that molecules are destroyed or if they are exposed to ultraviolet light or fierce oxygen molecules that tear apart the cell’s chemical connections. As soon as P38 is activated, it begins a chemical cascade which changes a number of other molecules in the cell and then starts to repair the cells. It is this cascade reaction that Simon Bekker-Jensen will be elucidating.

We actually only have a superficial knowledge of the processes initiated by P38. It is a bit like knowing that a plumber comes to repair a burst water pipe but not knowing how to call him, which tools he uses, how the pipe becomes watertight or who will let him in.

Desire to understand aging

"Obviously, if we can obtain a detailed insight into how the cell’s defence against stress is involved in the aging of cells, we’ll gain a better understanding of why we age and run down differently. And maybe we’ll be able to help those who age more quickly. This may effect the rate at which we age and how healthy we are when we’re old," explains Simon Bekker-Jensen who, by the way, is one of Denmark's best chess players, a talent he uses in his research.

"Chess is very like research. You need to think logically, observe, give full consideration to the situation and solve the problem. And you need to apply your creativity. So there are lots of aspects of chess that I can use in my research," he explains

"Simon Bekker-Jensen is an exceptionally talented researcher and we noticed him as far back as the very early stages of his career," says Anne Marie Engel, director of research at Lundbeck Foundation.

"He’s previously received Lundbeck Foundation's Talent Prize, and he continues to deliver research of the highest quality. In addition, in spite of his young age, he already has an impressive scientific output."

About the Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship Programme

With its Fellowship Programme, Lundbeck Foundation aims to provide talented scientists with a unique opportunity to conduct concentrated and dedicated research for a period of five years. Each Fellow receives a research grant for DKK 10 million. Grants go to young scientists who have gained a PhD within the past five to seven years and are qualified to establish or develop their own research teams in biomedical sciences.

Contact

Regitze Reeh, head of communications at Lundbeck Foundation, tel.: +45 3054 6608, 

Simon Bekker-Jensen, Associate Professor, mobile: +45 2020 4993