19 November 2020

SUND researchers attract millions in funding from the Independent Research Fund Denmark


Four researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences have received Sapere Aude Research Leader grants from the Independent Research Fund Denmark. The DKK 6-million grants go to young researchers with ground-breaking projects.

Photo: Colourbox.

Agnete Kirkeby from the Department of Neuroscience, Jan Zylicz from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology (DanStem), Jonas Geldmann from GLOBE and Lea Haarup Gregersen from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine are among the recipients of this year’s Sapere Aude Research Leader grants. Lea Haarup Gregersen begins her research at UCPH in early 2021.

The grant is targeted at the very best research talents who can help renew Danish research and build a foundation for future centres of excellence and scientific breakthroughs.

According to David Dreyer Lassen, Chair of the Independent Research Fund Denmark, the grant supports young research talents’ opportunity to do research in areas they are particularly enthusiastic about.

’The Independent Research Fund Denmark boosts the most talented young researchers, who have ground-breaking ideas and top-notch leadership ambitions, of benefit to Denmark’s future’, he says.

The Sapere Aude grant spans the entire scientific spectrum, which is evident both from the broadness and high quality of the projects. See a list of all the recipients here.

The four researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences receive a grant of just over DKK 6 million each. The two DanStem research projects focus on stem cell treatment of narcolepsy patients and cell research into human eggs, respectively, while the project from the GLOBE Institute seeks to provide more detailed and precise knowledge about endangered animal species by combining research data with so-called citizen science. Finally, the project based at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine looks at how our genetic material is ‘read’, which may affect our understanding of diseases like cancer.

Read more about the four projects below.

Stem cells for narcolepsy treatment

Agnete Kirkeby, Associate Professor at the Department of Neuroscience, has received DKK 6.19 million for research into stem cell treatment of narcolepsy. There is currently no treatment for narcolepsy that is capable of replacing the dead nerve cells caused by the disease. The new study seeks to produce stem cells which, when converted into the right nerve cells, can be transplanted into the brain of rats with a condition resembling narcolepsy.

The tests will pave the way for a future situation where patients do not depend on medical regulation of their day-night rhythm, which is currently the only available form of treatment.

The egg’s decisions

Jan Zylicz, Associate Professor and Team Lead at DanStem, has received DKK 6.18 million for a study of how the cells in a fertilised egg decide whether to produce the foetus or the placenta, and where these chemical modifications come from.

With a team of specialists, the group will look at how the cells’ energy level determines their development and that of the foetus in the very early stages of the foetal period. 

The planned tests will help us understand how the foetus responds to environmental changes, for example the sugar concentration, as well as their effect on the long-term health of the new-born child.

New help for threatened animal species

Jonas Geldmann, Postdoc at the GLOBE Institute, has received DKK 6.18 million for developing a better and more precise way of documenting threatened species. This comes at a time when the threats against nature have never been greater and the rate at which species are becoming extinct has never been higher. Nevertheless, we only have very limited knowledge of what constitutes the greatest threats, where in the world they occur, and which factors cause them to spread.

By combining the IUCN list of threatened animals, the so-called Red List, with citizen observations, Jonas Geldmann seeks to map the treats that affect animals and where. This should give researchers and experts a chance to explore which factors affect these patterns and how best to prevent these threats from spreading.

How are genes ’transcribed’?

Lea Haarup Gregersen, upcoming group leader at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, has received DKK 6.18 million for researching how our genetic material is transcribed.

The group aims to shed light on the molecular mechanisms behind the complex processes that make RNA polymerase, a huge enzyme complex, capable of transcribing the structural units in our genetic material, or genes – a process known as ‘transcription’.

The project may contribute with new knowledge that is key to understanding how our genetic material is transcribed. This will affect our understanding of diseases like cancer.


Associate Professor Agnete Kirkeby, +45 51 68 53 53, agnete.kirkeby@sund.ku.dk

Associate Professor Jan Zylicz, +45 23 83 98 89, jan.zylicz@sund.ku.dk

Postdoc Jonas Geldmann, +45 29 90 51 92, jgeldmann@sund.ku.dk