25 November 2022

Four SUND researchers receive DKK 11 million from the Inge Lehmann Programme

Grants

Four researchers from SUND receive a total of DKK 11 million from the Independent Research Fund Denmark’s Inge Lehmann Programme. The programme aims to strengthen talent development and promote gender equality in Danish research environments.

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Assistant Professor Celia Kjærby, Associate Professor Mie Kristensen, Assistant Professor Trisha Jean Grevengoed, and Postdoc Lærke Smidt Gasbjerg all recieve grants from The Inge Lehmann Programme.

The Independent Research Fund Denmark has decided to fund the independent research of a number of young researchers within a range of research fields. The four SUND researchers who have received the grant focus on sleep, drugs for brain disorders, “healthy” fat and hormones, among other things.

Brief awakenings at night

Assistant Professor Celia Kjærby from the Center for Translational Neuromedicine has received DKK 2,879,617 for a research project focussing on brief awakenings of the brain at night.

“In order to live a long life and enjoy a healthy old age, the brain must be able to get rid of the harmful waste products that pile up during the day. Unfortunately, ageing is often associated with the accumulation of these waste products, which may in the long run increase the risk of dementia. The brain has an inbuilt clearance system called the glymphatic system, which removes waste products by allowing cleaning fluid to flow through the blood vessels in the brain into the brain tissue. The glymphatic system is much more effective when we sleep, but we still do not know why. I wish to determine whether the brief awakenings that are a natural part of our sleep help pump cleaning fluid around the brain when we sleep. Our blood vessels expand during deep sleep, and brief awakenings cause them to contract suddenly. I wish to determine whether these slow, rhythmic changes in blood vessel volume act as an effective pump that pushes cleaning fluid around the brain. Ageing is characterised by poor sleep and numerous brief awakenings. I am interested in whether frequent awakenings cause the cleaning fluid pump to be less effective, which would contribute to the build-up of waste products in the brain. This project will provide new therapeutic strategies for promoting healthy ageing and thus reducing the risk of dementia among senior citizens.”

Treatment for blood clots

Associate Professor Mie Kristensen from the Department of Pharmacology has received DKK 2,878,925 for a research project focussing on new drugs for patients with brain disorders.

“The number of people suffering from brain disorders is increasing. Unfortunately, drug development has failed to keep up with the growth in patients. Strokes caused by blood clots in the brain is a main cause of death. Treatment is limited to removing the blood clot, but that does not stop the stroke-induced mechanisms that cause irreparable damage to the brain tissue and eventually reduce the patient’s quality of life. We are currently seeing the development of peptide-based drugs capable of stopping these stroke-induced mechanisms, including NR2B9c; however, they appear to have poor therapeutic effect when given as conventional IV injections. This is because they have difficulties crossing the blood vessels in the brain (the blood-brain barrier) and thus fail to reach their target in the brain tissue. The aim of this project is to design peptide-based drugs with a built-in ability to search for and cross the blood-brain barrier. We will take as our starting point the peptide NR2B9c and attach it to viral peptides which have proven capable of searching for the blood-brain barrier as well as peptides capable of crossing cell membranes and thus potentially the blood-brain barrier.”

“Healthy” and “unhealthy” fatty acids

Assistant Professor Trisha Jean Grevengoed from the Department of Biomedical Sciences has received DKK 2,880,001 for a project focussing on how a particular fatty acid affects the immune system and whether it affects our metabolism.

“Doctors often advise patients suffering from metabolic disease to eat less fat. But you cannot lump all fats together. Some are associated with more health risks than others, and therefore some fatty acids are classed as ‘healthy’ and some as ‘unhealthy’. Fats of all types are used for many functions in the body, though, including energy storage, structure of cells and signalling from one cell to another. The body needs ‘unhealthy’ fat too, and therefore, avoiding ‘unhealthy’ fat completely is not possible. Arachidonic acid is what we would call a controversial polyunsaturated fatty acid. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are generally considered ‘healthy’, but inside the body, arachidonic acid is converted into molecules that cause inflammation. Inflammation can be useful and protect against infections, but uncontrolled inflammation can lead to diabetes and liver disease. I wish to determine how the body uses the controversial arachidonic acid, especially a particular metabolite of arachidonic acid. By lowering the level of this metabolite, I am interested in whether it plays a key role in the body’s response to dietary changes or increased pressure on the immune system. I also wish to determine how the metabolite directly affects immune cells, and whether this effect has an impact on metabolism. The project will help us understand the controversy of arachidonic acid and determine whether it is possible to affect the breakdown of arachidonic acid inside the body and thus come to consider it a ‘healthy’ fat.”

Hormones’ effect on disease symptoms

Postdoc Lærke Smidt Gasbjerg from the Department of Biomedical Sciences has received DKK 2,879,428 for a project focussing on how particular hormones affect symptoms of patients suffering from postprandial hypotension and POTS when they eat.

“When we eat, the concentration of blood in the gastrointestinal tract increases to help transfer nutrients from the intestines to the liver and other organs. Most people enjoy eating, but people suffering from postprandial hypotension or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) often experience discomfort such as dizziness, rapid heartbeat and even fainting during meals. When we eat, the gastrointestinal tract also releases a series of hormones, and they play a key role in the metabolism and use of nutrients and in our appetite. We have seen indications that some of these hormones increase the flow of blood to the gastrointestinal tract when we eat, and we therefore suspect them of affecting the symptoms experienced by people suffering from postprandial hypotension or POTS. Using state-of-the-art MR technology combined with the administration of a series of hormones, we intend to determine whether the hormones GIP, GLP-1 and GLP-2 affect the mechanisms behind postprandial hypotension and POTS, and whether inhibiting the function of these hormones may be useful in the treatment of these disabling disorders.”

Contact:

Assistant Professor Celia Kjærby
celia.kjaerby@sund.ku.dk

Associate Professor Mie Kristensen
mie.kristensen@sund.ku.dk

Assistant Professor Trisha Jean Grevengoed
grevengoed@sund.ku.dk

Postdoc Lærke Smidt Gasbjerg
lsg@sund.ku.dk

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