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Research star to head growing field of proteomics

It is the study of proteins inside cells. Now the Novo Nordisk Fonden has granted funds to a world research leader at UCPH

Copenhagen is about to open its doors to a research initiative in the new burgeoning field of proteomics.

Supported by a DKK 60 m grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the new Clinical Proteomics research programme at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) will be headed by the German Professor Matthias Mann, the world’s leading expert in proteomics – the study of proteins inside cells. Mann is a director of the Max Planck Insitute of Biochemistry in Germany, and he is already a research director of the Proteomics Program- NNF Centre for Protein Research at UCPH.

”We now have the capability to address this long standing quest to profile the proteome from plasma fluids. We need as little as one microlitre of blood to do that. Furthermore, we can now get the data within a few hours for each sample. Of course, the new programme shall test out these capabilities as well as improve and innovate on the technology itself,” Mann says to the University Post.

Focus on diabetes and obesity

Typically, an active genetic sequence in our cell is eventually modified into amino acids and folded by factories called ‘ribosomes’ into proteins. Even a single mutation in our amino acids or misfolding arising out of inefficiency in our ribosome factories can have adverse effects on the metabolism of the cell depending on the importance of that protein. So it’s logical to expect that there could be distinct protein signatures between healthy and diseased people.

Proteomes graphic by Aditya Sankar adapted from

We could now expect to see what in our proteome helps or prevents us from losing weight, metabolize sugar or burn fat. ”Our primary focus will be novel protein biomarkers of metabolic syndromes such as diabetes and obesity that are global health problems,” says Mann.

Matthias Mann: “I hope that this approach becomes global as it can only benefit the millions who suffer from these syndromes especially in countries like China and India.”

An example of this is the different abilities of two people to lose weight by exercising. This could be explained by differences in metabolism, Mann explains. The kind of data the new centre can generate can identify protein factors that contribute to this phenotype. This can be applied to most metabolic syndromes.

UCPH good for partnership

The research will represent a new era for the use of protein biomarkers in disease diagnosis and preventive medicine. We have seen protein biomarkers in urine help diagnose silent killers such as prostate and ovarian cancer at very early stages.

Professor Mann believes that Copenhagen is the right place for the program’s research mission. ”Working with doctors can be difficult in most parts of the world but UCPH has several examples of successful research partnerships between the university and the hospitals. The Dean Ulla Wewer has been pointing us in the right direction and the medical community in Denmark are definitely much more open to collaborations when it promises research based solutions to the patient. We will already collaborate with the diabetic clinic for example,” he says.

When quizzed about how he feels on being confronted with research competition from limitless resources of countries such as the USA, he says: ”Yes, they have deep pockets, but our funding has been generous too and we have the tools, environment and the community to take a head start. Furthermore, I hope that this approach becomes global as it can only benefit the millions who suffer from these syndromes especially in countries like China and India.”

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