News Release

New ambitious research program receives big grant for research into leukemia

Professor Kristian Helin heads a new research program, which has just received DKK 100 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Copenhagen - The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

The newly established research programme, 'Programme for Translational Hematology', has just received DKK 100 million in funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The aim is to strengthen the cooperation between basic research and clinical practice, to gain new knowledge on leukaemia and to make a concentrated effort to develop and test new forms of treatment. Professor Kristian Helin at DanStem and Biotech Research & Innovation Center (BRIC) is at the head of the new programme, which focusses in particular on identifying new forms of treatment of the leukaemia forms AML (Acute Myeloid Leukaemia) and MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome).

'I look forward to getting started, and I will be really busy. The great support of the programme from all sides, from the university environment to the clinical research done at Rigshospitalet and the Novo Nordisk Foundation, is amazing. The programme is first and foremost a main step in bridging the divide between basic research and clinical research, and we will draw on the best professional expertise from both environments. Hopefully this will enable us to meet our main objective, which is to help patients suffering from leukaemia', says Professor Kristian Helin, who stresses that Professor Kirsten Grønbæk from the Department of Haematology and Professor Bo Porse from the Finsen Laboratory, both at Rigshospitalet, are main cooperation partners.

From DNA Sequencing to Phase 1 Trials and Recruitment of International Research Capacities

Kristian Helin explains that the research programme will take as its starting point the characterisation and use of leukaemia cells, which will be collected from patients over the next few years, and the first stage of the programme will consist in using this material to screen for the best possible forms of treatment. The goal is to become able to use the information about the mutations in patients' DNA that have prompted the development of leukaemia. It will be used to predict patients' need for treatment and medicine response time, making it easier for doctors to customise the treatment of individual patients. Another ambition is to produce pre-clinical models of the leukaemia by transplanting primary cells into mice.

'The pre-clinical trials and basic research are main parts of our overall goal of finding new targets for the development of new medicine. At the same time, we want to look ahead and identify new methods when we know how the various forms of leukaemia develop. We want to take our research all the way from basic research to clinical trials on human subjects', Kristian Helin says and stresses that the research programme also contains several educational perspectives. It will support the recruitment of young doctors and researchers, and strong international capacities have already been recruited for the programme in the form of Professor Krister Wennerberg from the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Finland.

Focus on Diabetes and a New Name for DanStem

The research programme falls under DanStem, which since its formation in 2010 has focussed on basic research primarily. The researchers have determined how stem cells in the laboratory can be forced to develop in a particular direction and identified the role played by cancer stem cells in the development of various forms of cancer. Now the centre is ready to take the next step and translate the research results into new, more targeted and efficient forms of treatment.

To further strengthen its translational research, the centre will allocate DKK 32 million from its previous budget to the development of diabetes treatment. Professor and Director of DanStem Henrik Semb looks forward to the strengthened effort to create new results.

'This shows that our basic research can be translated into clinical application within cancer and diabetes. The new grant and the redistribution of resources to translational research will strengthen our effort, through pre-clinical and future clinical trials, to develop new forms of treatment and cures for haematological forms of cancer and type 1 diabetes', says Professor Henrik Semb.

DanStem has previously consisted of two sections: the Novo Nordisk Foundation Section for Basic Stem Cell Biology funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Section for Translational Stem Cell Research and Therapy funded by Innovation Fund Denmark. In connection with the new grant the two sections will be merged into one centre called the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology, Danstem.


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