The Olav Thon Foundation academic awards and grants for research 2016

This year, the Olav Thon Foundation will for the second time hand out academic awards and grants for excellent teaching and research in medicine and the natural sciences.

The awards and grants are given to high-quality international and national research and to research-based teaching at the university and university college level. New this year is a separate grant in support of Nordic research collaboration in medicine.

In 2016, the foundation will disburse a little more than NOK 44 million. This sum is distributed as follows:

  1. An international research award in the field of medicine and the natural sciences. The award amounts to NOK 5 million.
  2. A grant to Nordic research collaboration in medicine on the topics of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. A total of three projects are each granted NOK 10 million.
  3. Six national academic awards for excellence in education, each of NOK 500 000.
  4. Grants to teaching-related research to five Norwegian academic communities, each receiving grants from NOK 1.2 million to NOK 1.5 million.

The international research award

The international research award is given to Professor Jean-Pierre Changeux, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.

The award amounts to NOK 5 million.

Professor Jean-Pierre Changeux receives the award for his pioneering work in the fields of molecular biology and brain research.

Changeux is one of very few living researchers who has been able to leave his mark on several branches of science. Many of the concepts that drive modern science forward can be traced back to Changeux and his original discoveries. This award honours a researcher who has linked a deep understanding of molecules and their regulation to new insight into the function and diseases of the brain. This insight has already led to new approaches to the treatment of neurological disorders and will continue to inspire scientists for decades to come.

Changeux’s research findings are central to our understanding of the formation of synapses and the plasticity of the synapses over time and during the ageing process, but also of cultural learning (such as reading and writing) and mental disorders. At the same time, the findings shed new light on crucial factors associated with child development and education.

On the basis of Changeux’s research, clinical tests are now underway with nicotine-based drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, pain and tobacco addiction.

Since the mid-1990s, Changeux (in collaboration with Stanislas Dehaene) has used computational modelling to understand the neurobiological basis of cognitive functions. This work has inspired new research on the effects of general anaesthetics and drug addiction.

Grant to Nordic research collaboration in the field of medicine, with a focus on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases

Research support is granted to the following three Projects:

‘Developing a novel experimental approach to identify subjects at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease’, by Professor Maiken Nedergaard, University of Copenhagen and Professor Erlend A. Nagelhus, University of Oslo. The project receives a grant of NOK 10 million over a four-year period.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by an accumulation of protein waste products – including amyloid – that trigger an inflammation that over several years leads to a loss of brain cells. In recently published and outstanding original studies, Professors Maiken Nedregaard and Erlend A. Nagelhus have shown that the brain is able to remove waste products through a transport system driven by the AQP4 water channel. They refer to this ‘cleaning system’ as ‘the glymphatic system’.

By using animal models, Nedregaard and Nagelhus will explore a new method that may show how the glymphatic system works. This is intended as a first step towards a diagnostic imaging test for patients. There is a significant need for an early diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. If the consortium succeeds in developing the test, it will be used to explore therapeutic methods that increase the effectiveness of the glymphatic system and thus halt the development of disease.

‘Interactions between reelin and amyloid-beta in the entorhinal cortex – A possible initiator of Alzheimer’s disease’, by Professors Menno P. Witter and Cliff Kentros, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Professor Gunnar Gouras, Lund University and Professor Heikki Tanila, University of Eastern Finland. The project receives a grant of NOK 10 million over a four-year period.

The project is based on a new and interesting conceptualization of the possible early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This conceptualization involves a number of cascade interactions that cause neuron loss. The hypotheses are original and innovative. A better understanding of reelin-dependent mechanisms may help explain the neuronal degeneration which is key to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The project convenes the Nordic multidisciplinary expertise which is required to meet this scientific challenge and has a major potential to strengthen Nordic translational research.

‘The role of mitochondrial dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease: a search for therapeutic strategies’, by Professors Lene Juel Rasmussen and Vilhelm Bohr, University of Copenhagen, Professor Tone Tønjum, University of Oslo, and Professor Joakim Lundeberg, KTH Royal Institute of Technology/Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm. The project receives a grant of NOK 10 million over a four-year period.

The project will investigate whether mitochondrial dysfunction or altered energy supply contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. The experimental design is convincing and appropriate to elucidate these issues.

The experiments will be centred on the identification of changes in transcriptome, proteome and metabolome that are linked to mitochondrial dysfunction. An important and highly promising part of the planned project is devoted to studies of DNA repair deficiencies and the impact of such deficiencies on neurological function.

The analyses will be performed on cells from mammals and nematodes, on intact organisms (mice) and post mortem samples of brain tissue from patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Three different Nordic institutions are involved, with complementary expertise well suited to the questions to be addressed.

National awards for excellence in education

The national award for excellence in education is given to the following:

Professor Karin Pittman (biology/aquaculture), University of Bergen. Pittmann heads courses at the master’s level. On these courses it is a precondition that students engage with external actors outside the university.

Professor Vidar Selås (zoology, ecology, natural resources management), Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås. Selås has developed courses in natural resources management at both the basic and advanced levels, in which the students are required to stay at a research station over a period of time, receiving a multidisciplinary introduction to methodologies etc. in the study of the natural world.

Professor Inger Njølstad (medicine), University of Tromsø/Arctic University of Norway. Njølstad has developed and implemented a new curriculum for training of doctors. The curriculum provides an evidence-based background to an amended medical training programme, outlining how new forms of tuition can reinforce the students’ ability to address complex (and new) diseases and conditions.

Professor Hans Petter Langtangen (informatics), University of Oslo.Langtangen has been a pioneer and an innovator with regard to the teaching of programming, as well as in a number of other areas.

Associate Professor Christian Jørgensen (biology and evolutionary ecology), University of Bergen. Jørgensen has developed active, dialogue-based forms of tuition that have been highly recognized by his colleagues and students. This is especially evident in the periodic student evaluations.

Professor Per Grøttum (medicine), University of Oslo. Grøttum has been involved in digital forms of tuition and examination in the medical study programme at UiO.

Each of the above is given an award of NOK 500 000.

Grants to national tuition-related research projects

Support is granted to the following projects:

Student participation in research, by Professor NOK 1.5 million. The project aims to engage bachelor’s level students in assessment of a light phenomenon that appears in a few places around the world (including in the Hessdalen valley near Røros). As yet, the phenomenon has not been adequately explained scientifically.

Infectious parasites in wild animals in Norwegian zoos: focus on a ‘One health’ perspective (ParaWild), by Professor Lucy Robertson (parasitology) and Assistant Professor John Debenham, NMBU. The project extends over three years and is granted a total of NOK 1.2 million. The project – ParaWild – shall promote health-oriented student research on parasites in wild animals that have an effect on public health and the health of domestic animals.

Ecosystem, climate and variation in a ‘maritime mini-ecosystem’: a fjord in western Norway, by Professor Anna Gro Vea Salvanes (biology), University of Bergen. The project extends over three years and is granted a total of NOK 1.2 million. The project aims to develop (quantitatively and qualitatively) a course in field work to be presented to the marine research communities in Bergen: ‘Introduction to marine field methods’.

Complex mathematical algorithms top-down: Monte Carlo methods for path generation explained by students to students, by Associate Professor Titus van Erp (chemistry), Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The project extends over three years and is granted a total of NOK 1.5 million. The project is based on a concept of providing students with an understanding of chemical processes at a ‘macro level’, before they drill down to mathematical calculations of these.

Mental disorders and cardiovascular disease – overlapping mechanisms, by Professor Ole A. Andreassen (medicine), University of Oslo. The project extends over three years and is granted a total of NOK 1.5 million. The project addresses cardiovascular comorbidity in relation to various mental disorders (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). Three hypotheses are formulated, and an account is given of the multidisciplinary methods/data that are used/studied.

The Olav Thon Foundation

The Olav Thon Foundation was established in December 2013 by Olav Thon.  The objectives of the foundation are to exercise stable and long-term ownership of Olav Thon Gruppen AS and its subsidiaries in accordance with the key guidelines established by Olav Thon for his businesses, and to distribute funds to charitable causes.

Published Jan. 14, 2016 10:00 AM