New team of professors to steer BørneRiget towards the global elite

A grant of DKK 60 mill. (EUR 8 mill.) to BørneRiget from the Novo Nordisk Foundation means that three professors have been recruited at Rigshospitalet to secure a Danish lead within reconstructive surgery, foetal diagnostics and treatment of children with heart diseases.

Three specialist frontrunners, Magdalena Fossum, Olav Bjørn Petersen and Vibeke E. Hjortdal, have been hired as professors by Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen from 1 May and 1 June. With other experts from Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen, they will be helping to take Denmark to the leading edge globally within reconstructive surgery (treatment with own tissue); research, diagnostics and treatment of foetuses (foetal therapy); and heart diseases in babies and children. 

The professorships are thanks to a unique donation from the Novo Nordisk Foundation of DKK 60 mill. (EUR 8 mill.). The goal is to ensure continued development of Rigshospitalet’s highly specialised functions within the three areas and to establish international powerhouses for child surgery in the Capital Region of Denmark through close collaboration between Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen.

Rigshospitalet is the only place in Denmark performing highly specialised surgery on babies and children within all medical specialist areas. In 2025, all babies and children at Rigshospitalet will be treated at one site; the new BørneRiget building. This will offer unique opportunities to strengthen collaboration on research, treatment and education within the surgical, paediatric and anaesthesiological fields, as the medical head of BørneRiget, Bent Ottesen, explained: 

“BørneRiget won’t be opening until 2025, but being able to recruit the professors now will help the primary function of BørneRiget; to gather all babies and children under one roof to coordinate diagnostics, research and development across specialist areas and groups to benefit babies, children, pregnant women and their families. The donation from the Novo Nordisk Foundation gives us a unique opportunity to develop and future-proof research within foetal therapy and child heart diseases and to develop and implement modern tissue techniques in reconstructive surgery,” explained Bent Ottesen.  

The three new hires have extensive research experience from Karolinska Universitetssjukhus and Aarhus University Hospital, respectively, and they all have strong national and international networks which, with the existing research and development at Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen, will help bring Denmark to the very forefront within foetal diagnostics and treatment, treatment and follow-up of children with heart diseases, and reconstructive surgery (treatment with own tissue).

Part of realising the vision of BørneRiget

Merete Lange, project director for BørneRiget, is extremely pleased with the donation and the three new professors:

“This is a decisive move to realise our vision to be the world’s best children’s hospital,” she explained. “Recruitment of the three professors gives us a unique opportunity to join the international elite and to integrate research, education, and patient treatment; another of the visions for BørneRiget.” 

The ambition at BørneRiget is to establish a forum to treat children and their families from all of Denmark; a forum that is as playful as it is educational, and that combines research, care, education and treatment. The aim is to set up a safe and secure framework for treatment with room for play, fun and contact with parents so that life for families is as safe and close to normal as possible during birth, admission and treatment. 

Read more about the three professors:

Olav Bjørn Petersen: 

More foetal diagnosis and treatment in the womb

“Planning treatment and operations for babies today often starts while the baby is still a foetus, lying safely in its mother’s womb.

Therefore, examinations during pregnancy have to be more accurate and comprehensive, so that more foetuses can be diagnosed and treated in the womb and so that the baby has the best possible start to life and quality of life later on.” This is according to Olav Bjørn Petersen, who, on 1 May, took on a new professorship in foetal medicine and therapy at the Centre for Foetal Medicine and Pregnancy at the Department of Obstetrics at Rigshospitalet’s Juliane Marie Centre and at the University of Copenhagen.

During his professorship, Olav Bjørne will be researching new diagnostic methods and developing minimally invasive techniques using tiny needles, for example, to insert stents to treat the foetus inside the womb with the least possible risk to the mother and the baby. 

“If we can be even better at diagnosing diseases in the child before it is born, for example through new genetic techniques and new types of foetal diagnostics, we can help even more babies and their parents with the very best treatment. For example, babies with congenital abnormalities of the urinary tract, babies with rare diseases and babies with congenital lung diseases and heart diseases. The earlier and more accurately we can determine a disease in the unborn child, the better our chances of helping the child into the world with the best possible quality of life,” explained Olav Bjørn Petersen.

About Olav Bjørn Petersen

  • From 1 May 2019 employed as a professor in foetal medicine and foetal therapy. The professorship is based at the Centre for Foetal Medicine and Pregnancy at the Department of Obstetrics at Rigshospitalet’s Juliane Marie Centre and at the University of Copenhagen.
  • He comes from a position as a consultant at the Centre for Prenatal Diagnostics at Aarhus University Hospital, Skejby 
  • PhD and medical specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics, expert training programme in foetal medicine.
  • In 2018 nominated for the Digitisation Award for Telemedicine - home monitoring pregnant women. 
  • 60 years old.

Read more about Olav Bjørn Petersen’s research and the professorship.

Magdalena Fossum: 

Healing children with their own cells

When children have to undergo an operation, for example on the bladder, a challenge can sometimes be to operate gently and have enough tissue of the same type as that which has to be repaired. This can be made possible using a technique known as ‘tissue engineering’; a technique rapidly advancing throughout the world with its possibility to reconstruct organs for their original function with the right tissue, for example urothelial cells in the urinary bladder. 

Tissue engineering involves extracting some of the patient’s own cells and cultivating them in a test tube or the body itself to grow new tissue from the patient’s own cells. The advantage is that the body will not try to reject the resulting tissue because the immune system will recognise the patient’s own cells. Magdalena Fossum is researching into how this technique can be realised to benefit babies and children at Rigshospitalet and internationally. The new professorship in paediatric surgery will be linked to BørneRiget and based at the Centre for Cancer and Organ Diseases at Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen. 

The aim is to develop the technique so that it can be applied in practice and so that the Nordic countries can take the lead in the field. 

Professor Magdalena Fossum explained:

“We are now aiming to further develop tissue engineering for urological reconstructions mainly for augmentation of the urinary bladder but also for easier catheterizations of the bladder by creating tissue tubes. We believe that tissue engineering is going to be helpful also for treating malformations in other organs and for reconstructive surgery after cancer therapy or traumatic injury.” 

Much of the research and development around the world in tissue engineering takes place in laboratories far away from real life at clinics. Magdalena Fossum hopes that, through the professorship and the link to the clinic, she will be able to help ensure that the technique is developed and implemented for various operations on children in Denmark, the Nordic countries and the rest of the world. 

Magdalena Fossum elaborated:

“Very few centres in the world are able to combine clinical work with research in this area. To the benefit of the patients, I hope to be able to develop the method further in cooperation with the staff and researchers at Rigshospitalet within my field of paediatric surgery. If we manage to develop the technique to help heal wounds of the bladder, there is a big potential to develop it further to prenatal operations or serious abdominal defects in new-borns. 

About Magdalena Fossum

  • From 1 June employed as a professor in paediatric surgery with focus on translational reconstruction techniques.
  • The professorship is based at the Centre for Cancer and Organ Diseases at Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen.
  • Comes from a position as lead consultant at the Department of Paediatric Urology at Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital, Karolinska University Hospital. 
  • Medical specialist in paediatric surgery.
  • In 2012 awarded prize for best translational research by the Swedish Society for Medical Research. 
  • 53 years old.

Vibeke Hjortdal:

Late complications for children with heart conditions to be identified and minimised

Like other countries, Denmark is good at treating congenital heart diseases in babies and children. The majority survive and have a good life, but recent research indicates that heart disease at the foetal stage can result in cognitive and psychosocial challenges later on in life. 

With a new professorship in paediatric congenital heart diseases, Professor Vibeke Hjortdal will be researching into how the brain of the foetus or child is affected by a heart disease. She aims to find out the causes of the different heart diseases and when and how to best treat the child with the fewest late complications and best quality of life. Either through treatment in the foetal stage, or with the right treatment immediately after birth and later in life. The professorship is linked to BørneRiget and based at the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Rigshospitalet’s Centre for Cardiac, Vascular, Pulmonary and Infectious Diseases. 

Vibeke Hjortdal explained:

“We’re seeing more and more children with heart conditions who need help at school and in other contexts, both cognitive and psychosocial. I hope that through the professorship, and through working with researchers nationally and internationally, I can help find out why, when and how the brain’s development is influenced by heart disease as a child. The aim is to help those who already have or who later get problems because of heart diseases and in the longer term possibly completely remove these problems.”

In previous work at the Centre for Congenital Heart Disease at Aarhus University Hospital, Vibeke Hjortdal has already launched a number of research studies in the area, and she has set up a collaboration with children’s hospitals in the US, Canada, England, Brazil and Argentina, which she will also continue to work with and benefit from in the professorship: 

“I’m really looking forward to being able to work with people who are responsible for treating congenital heart disease at Rigshospitalet, and the opportunities this will provide to research into the diseases and the problems they cause for patients and families.” 

With regard to the two other new professors at BørneRiget, Vibeke said:

“I see great opportunities in having all children and young people gathered at one place at BørneRiget so that we can coordinate data across disciplines and benefit from the synergy arising from daily contact in the same building.” 

About Vibeke E. Hjortdal

  • From 1 May employed as a professor in congenital heart disease at the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Centre for Cardiac, Vascular, Pulmonary and Infectious Diseases at Rigshospitalet and at the University of Copenhagen.
  • Comes from a position as a consultant and professor in congenital heart disease and cardiothoracic surgery at Aarhus University Hospital, Skejby.
  • Previously deputy head of department at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University.
  • Dr. Med., PhD and specialist doctor in cardiothoracic surgery 
  • Ridder af Dannebrog, 
  • Awards Oddfellow Ordenens honorary award (2015), August Krog Prize (2005), Christenson-Ceson research award (DADL) (2001), N.C. Nielsen award, 2001. 
  • 57 years old

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