Researchers to look for new therapies for blood cancers

​New grant of DKK 100 million to promote translation of research results into novel therapies targeting stem cells in blood cancers and diabetes.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a grant of DKK 100 million for strengthening and developing translational research at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology, DanStem at the University of Copenhagen. The grant will contribute to translating the Center's research results into new cancer and diabetes therapies for the benefit of patients.

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The grant is awarded for establishing a new research programme, "Programme for Translational Hematology" focusing on blood cancers. With the programme, the Center aims to establish a platform for testing new drugs and identifying potential new targets for development of new therapies for blood cancer patients. The programme could have a major impact on treatment of hematologic malignancies. The primary aim is to identify novel treatments for patients with blood cancers AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) and MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome) for which treatments and success rates have changed little in the last decades.

Professor at DanStem and BRIC Kristian Helin will head the programme, which will include collaboration with   clinicians and clinican scientists  from Rigshospitalet, Denmark's  state hospital. Major activities include :

  • Identification and characterization of cancer stem cells from patients with blood cancers.

  • Identification of the best available treatment for individual patients by screening patient-derived cancer stem cells for sensitivity toward a panel of approved drugs (personalized medicine). 

  • Collaborations with companies to develop new drugs for treatment of blood cancers.

Since DanStem was established in 2010, its focus has primarily been on conducting basic research. Research topics have included how to induce stem cells to differentiate into certain types of cells and the specific role of cancer stem cells in developing different types of cancer. The Center is now ready to take the next step and put more focus onto translating promising scientific findings and methods into new more targeted and efficient therapies.

To further strengthen its translational research, the Center will reallocate DKK 32 million from its current budget to the development of new stem cell based therapies for diabetes.

Henrik Semb, Executive Director of the Center says: "This acknowledges that our basic research is paving the way towards promising translational applications in cancer and diabetes. The new grant and reallocation of resources to translational research will boost our efforts to, via preclinical and future clinical trials, develop new treatments/cures in hematological cancers and type 1 diabetes."

Kristian Helin, Head of the programme says: "We would like to thank the Novo Nordisk Foundation for the support, which will greatly strengthen the ties between basic and clinical research and hopefully lead to the development of new treatment for AML and MDS."

Kirsten Grønbæk, Professor, MD  at the Department of Hematology, Rigshospitalet says:

"This program will focus on patients with relapsed MDS and AML, whom we rarely can offer efficient therapy  today. We hope  this personalized therapy program will have major impact on the lives of AML and MDS patients."

Dagnia Looms, Head of Strategic Awards of the Novo Nordisk Foundation says:

"The Novo Nordisk Foundation wishes to improve the health and welfare of people. With the new grant, we aim to contribute to bringing promising research results closer to the clinic and thereby strengthen Denmark's position internationally within this important research field. The ultimate goal is to improve patient treatment."

Until now, DanStem (Danish Stem Cell Center) has comprised two sections: Novo Nordisk Foundation Section for Basic Stem Cell Biology (BasicStem) supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Section for Translational Stem Cell Research and Therapy, which was supported by Innovation Fund Denmark. In connection with the new grant, the two sections now merge into one center named the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology, DanStem.


About the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology, DanStem

The Center is located at the University of Copenhagen and has approx. 150 staff members. The Center focuses on conducting basic and translational research within developmental, stem cell and molecular biology. The ambition is to generate knowledge that will form the basis for developing more targeted and efficient therapies for diabetes and cancer. Since 2010, the Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded grants totaling DKK 685 million (€92.1 million) for establishing and expanding the Center.

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is a Danish foundation with corporate interests. The Foundation has two objectives: 1) to provide a stable basis for the commercial and research activities of the companies in the Novo Group; and 2) to support scientific, humanitarian and social purposes. The vision of the Foundation is to contribute significantly to research and development that improves the health and welfare of people. Since 2010, the Foundation has donated more than DKK 10 billion (€1.2 billion), primarily for research at public institutions and hospitals in Denmark and the other Nordic countries. Read more at

Further information

BRIC:  Professor Kristian Helin,, Tel 2875 5668

Finsen lab:  Professor Bo T Porse,, Tel 2043 6922

RH: Professor Kirsten Grønbæk,, tel. 3545 6086/3545 6080

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