Five researchers from Health receive Ascending Investigator grants

The Lundbeck Foundation has awarded million-dollar grants to mid-career research talents in need of a boost to kick-start new projects within neuroscience. Five of the grant recipients are from the Faculty of Health.

From left: Sarang Dalal, Søren Egedal Degn, Zeynep Yilmaz, Christian Kanstrup Holm and Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira. Photo: Lundbeckfonden, Simon Fischel, AU Health et al.

The Lundbeck Foundation has recently distributed DKK 67.6 million to a total of 13 researchers, who over the next four years will immerse themselves in research projects located within the field of neuroscience – from tracking brain activity in the fetal stage to the impact of aging-associated B cells on the brain.

Five researchers from the Faculty of Health have made it through the selection process and can call themselves Ascending Investigators 2023. Together, they will receive nearly DKK 26 million:

Who: Professor Christian Kanstrup Holm, Department of Biomedicine
Grant: DKK 4,997,447
Project: "Novel NRF2-driven inhibition of viral replication in the CNS"

In this project, Christian Kanstrup Holm will investigate how cells of the central nervous system (CNS) attempt to fight neurotropic viruses, including measles virus and West Nile Virus. The latter has recently become a considerable problem in Europe, as countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea have experienced a considerable increase in CNS infections caused by West Nile fever.

Who: Associate Professor Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira, Department of Clinical Medicine
Grant: DKK 5,261,254
Project: "Neuroepigenomics of THC and CBD Exposure during Pregnancy in the Developing Brain"

Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira is investigating the effects of the cannabis compounds THC and CBD on prenatal brain development. In his research project, he will discern potential modifications in brain cell DNA and assess whether these changes can affect a child's cognitive abilities later in life. Using translational models, he will study the long-term neurocognitive epigenetic consequences, while human-like cerebral organoids will mimic early brain development under exposure to these compounds.

Who: Professor Sarang Dalal, Department of Clinical Medicine
Grant: DKK 5,119,830
Project: "Optically-pumped Magnetometry for in Utero Measurement of developing brain function (OptiMUM)"

Fetal magnetoencephalography (MEG) measures the faint magnetic signals of the fetal brain with sensors over the mother's abdomen, but it requires a special MEG system that is only available in three laboratories worldwide due to its expense. Sarang Dalal will therefore develop a fetal MEG that can reliably track brain function in the human fetus, potentially making this brain monitoring far more accessible to clinicians and researchers around the world.

Who: Associate Professor Søren Egedal Degn, Department of Biomedicine
Grant: DKK 5,432,768
Project: "The ABCs of neuroinflammaging: Age-associated B Cells as drivers of neuroinflammation"

Søren Egedal Degn investigates how a specific type of B cells contribute to neurodegeneration in connection with autoimmune disease and aging. The project will clarify how so-called aging-associated B cells (ABCs) directly affect the brain through harmful immune signaling molecules and antibodies, and how they orchestrate the subsequent attack of other immune cells on the central nervous system.

Who: Senior Researcher Zeynep Yilmaz, Department of Biomedicine
Grant: DKK 4,995,201
Project: "The Role of Neonatal Metabolic, Immune, and Neurotrophic Markers in the Etiology of Eating Disorders"

Zeynep Yilmaz's project aims to investigate the interplay between genes, environment, and biomarkers measured at birth to predict eating disorder risk and course. The project has the potential to identify distinct subgroups of individuals with eating disorders based on underlying biology, which could eventually be used for precision treatment and prevention strategies.

The coverage is based on press material from the Lundbeck Foundation.