26 January 2024

10 SUND-researchers receive grants to high-risk projects


Research daredevils from Danish universities and hospitals receive the Lundbeck Foundation Experiment grants. Ten researchers from SUND are among the recipients who receive a total of DKK 20 million to implement their high-risk projects.

Foto: Canva.

Each year, the Lundbeck Foundation awards up to DKK two million to audacious projects with sufficient innovation altitude, short fuse and fast launch, where some will end up as duds, but all of which have the potential to break with prevailing truths in science.

All of the projects are within neuroscience or related research fields that could benefit brain research. They have the potential to break new ground in their field even if the original research aim changes along the way. The researchers face a tall challenge, but they all embark on their projects with a ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ mindset.

The researchers awarded the Lundbeck Foundation Experiment 2023 grants are at different stages of their career, ranging from postdoctoral to professorial level. They have now been given the chance to put their boldest projects to the test.

At the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (SUND) at the University of Copenhagen, ten researchers receive the Experiment grant to embark on an undoubtedly difficult task that may prove to pay off on the career path as well.

On average, the individual grant is close to DKK 2,000,000. The amount is paid out over two years and gives the recipient the opportunity to immerse themselves in the hypothesis that he or she wants to investigate further.

Read about the ten projects at SUND below:

James William Bryson, BRIC, DKK 2.000.000

Pairing epitranscriptomic modifications with translational output to model neurogenesis 

This project looks to develop a method that enables researchers to build a mechanistic understanding of how epitranscriptomics shapes gene expression and ultimately cell fate.

Specifically, it looks to explore how mRNA and ribosomal RNA with different modifications choose to pair up to produce varying amounts of protein within different cell types. Armed with this technique I will look to explore the role of a specific combination of modifications in shaping neurogenesis, with much broader applications for dissecting the impact of epitranscriptomic modifications in guiding gene expression programs.

Nigel Kurgan, CBMR, DKK 2.000.000

Elucidating bone-brain organ crosstalk during lifestyle modifications 

Bone-originating cells and their secreted factors appear to impact cognition in response to lifestyle changes in humans and mice. This project aims to illuminate which bone-derived proteins influence these changes in cognition, what cells they act on within the brain, and which mechanisms they act through. Findings from this work can potentially uncover key connections between bone health and cognitive outcomes.

Luke Gamon, BMI, DKK 1.999.905

Mapping the Mind's Mosaic: Revealing spatial dynamics of modified proteins during neurodegeneration 

Protein dysfunction is a hallmark of neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, characterized by specific chemical modifications on proteins (post-translational modifications or PTMs) such as phosphorylation, acetylation, nitration, and ubiquitinylation. This study aims to generate detailed maps of these modified proteins in the brains of rodents and humans affected by Parkinson’s and related diseases, with the goal of identifying new biomarkers or potential drug targets by unravelling the spatial dynamics and interactions of these proteins and their PTMs.

Hajime Hirase, CTN, DKK 1.999.998

Imaging Activity-dependent Blood-Brain interAction (ABBA) during learning

Brain plasticity has been suggested to depend on growth hormones produced in peripheral tissues, yet their spatial and temporal distribution during learning remains unexplored. Employing molecular genetic tools for protein-protein interaction, we seek to visualize protein transport from blood to the brain during fear learning in mice. This research has a potential to advance our understanding of how long-term memory is formed in specific brain areas.

Eliška Waloschková, IVH, DKK 1.995.903

Lighting up the path of brain infections

This project focuses on advancing the understanding of brain infections through the development of an innovative bioluminescence mouse model. The objective is to enable non-invasive, in vivo tracing of infection progression in specific brain cell types. The approach includes the creation of miniature microscopes that allow imaging in awake and freely moving animals. The project aims to contribute to the field of brain infection research, while providing valuable insights into infection pathways and advancing neuroimaging technology.

Nicolas Fossat, ISIM, DKK 1.999.988

Investigating the RNA-binding defect of RBM5 as a main cause of Neurodegeneration

During neurodegeneration, the RNA biology of the brain is affected, which contributes to the disease. Using a highly innovative methodology, we have shown that the main cause may be the deregulation of the RNA-binding protein RBM5. This project aims to investigate this hypothesis by investigating different models of neurodegeneration and patient samples. If its contribution to disease is proven true, RBM5 deregulation could constitute a novel therapeutic target to fight neurodegeneration.

Morgane Thomsen, IN, DKK 1.862.893

Medium-chain triglycerides as treatment in alcohol dependence

Alcohol dependence represents a top 10 preventable cause of death, illness, and disability in Denmark and globally. Current treatments for alcohol dependence have limited efficacy. Changes in the way the brain processes energy are now believed to play a role in alcohol dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Recent evidence suggests that a ketogenic diet (high fat, low carbohydrate diet) can ameliorate withdrawal symptoms. In the present project, we will test whether specific medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), a dietary supplement, can similarly alleviate alcohol withdrawal and reduce the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain.

Mette Ødegaard Nielsen, IKM, DKK 1.995.000

Biomarkers predicting psychotic relapse in patients with schizophrenia

Antipsychotic medication is an important treatment for many patients with schizophrenia, but not all patients need lifelong treatment, and most patients wish to find out if they can do well without the medication. Discontinuation of their medication is for some patients unfortunately associated with severe psychotic relapse.

In the present project we will examine whether changes in inflammatory markers and vagal tone can be identified in patients with schizophrenia before a severe psychotic relapse can be detected clinically. Identifying a ‘high risk signature’ will help differentiate between patients who safely can continue tapering of antipsychotics and patients who need continuous treatment with antipsychotic medicine. The consequence will be a more personalized treatment with less side effects. 

Anders Hviid, ILF, DKK 1.924.542

Mental health and gastrointestinal disease: exploring the bidirectional nature of the brain-gut axis

We are going to explore the bidirectional relationship between mental health and gastrointestinal diseases, utilizing a comprehensive dataset of up to 260,000 individuals in Denmark with self-reported health and register-based diagnoses. Our aim is to gain new insights into the possibly complex interplay between brain health and gastrointestinal health. Insights that we hope can shape new hypotheses and advance our knowledge about the gut-brain axis.

Rikard Fred, CBMR, DKK 1.996.800

The Adventure begins with Tea-seq: Identifying the human enteric glia cells

This project will use a novel and innovative method to find out what populations of enteric glia cells are present in the human small intestine, which of these populations have a neurogenetic profile and identify protein markers so that these populations can be easily identified and studied. This knowledge will help us both understand diseases originating in, or affected by the gut, as well as enabling more targeted treatments.