New Grant for Research into Cultural Notions of Intestinal Bacteria and Mental Disorders – University of Copenhagen

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25 October 2017

New Grant for Research into Cultural Notions of Intestinal Bacteria and Mental Disorders


Associate Professor Louise Whiteley from Medical Museion has received the Velux Foundation's Core Group Award 2017. The grant will be used for research into our cultural notions of the connection between intestinal bacteria and mental disorders. The research takes a humanistic view on a new and significant biomedical research area and may affect the way in which we perceive and treat depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Recently, the exhibition Mind the Gut has attracted a full house at Medical Museion and captured the attention of the Danish media. Associate Professor Louise Whiteley has been one of the main driving forces behind the exhibition which focuses on the complex connections between our brain and intestines. Now, the Velux Foundation's Core Group Award 2017 of DKK 5,962,777 will further support Louise Whiteley's research in the field as signified by the forthcoming research project ‘Microbes on the mind: Public perceptions of the implications of microbiome research for mental illness’.

‘I’m so delighted to receive this award which will allow me and my team at Medical Museion to push our work with medical humanities into a new phase. The relationship between microbes and the mind taps into many of the contemporary concerns in our society about the connection between body and environment, as we have clearly seen in the initial reactions to the Mind the Gut exhibition. This award will allow us to research these meanings and reactions at a more qualified level, using the exhibition as the point of origin and as stimulus. This methodological and experimental approach will also feed into the ongoing debate about the role of cultural spaces in engaging and involving the public in biomedical research’, says Louise Whiteley.

The Need for Research into Our Understanding of a Highly Topical Subject
The grant is part of the Velux Foundation's Humanities Core Group Programme which supports free research in collective core group projects and is targeted towards the humanities faculties at the country's universities. With this programme, it is – inter alia - the Foundation’s wish to facilitate the formation of academically strong research groups with burgeoning ideas, to strengthen the growth layer of research and to promote the development of team research within the humanities.

In support of Louise Whiteley's research project, the foundation e.g. emphasises that during the past decade a new research area has emerged within health and medical sciences centred around our many intestinal bacteria that appear to play an important role in the development and condition of the brain. Today, researchers investigate the role of intestinal bacteria in a number of mental conditions and disorders, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, stress and autism.

‘The research has already been “released” by the laboratories and attracts considerable attention in the media and among patients and therapists. Therefore, there is also a need for humanities-based research that asks the following question: How does this research change our cultural notions of mental disorders and their treatment? “Microbes on the Mind” explores cultural generation-of-meaning processes across three analytical domains: science, culture/media and personal experiences. Besides, the project comprises a series of open, experimental workshops in the exhibition Mind the Gut at Medical Museion, designed to test and further develop the analysis’, as stated by the Velux Foundation in its reasoning.

Louise Whiteley is affiliated with the Department of Public Health. The grant will be combined with the ongoing work of the Section for Science Communication at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research and with a Mads Øvlisen postdoctoral fellowship in art and sciences from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, awarded to Adam Bencard.

Associate Professor Louise Whiteley
Telephone +45 21 12 67 12