Ion pumps in cells and their importance for nervous disorders

More knowledge about cellular ion pumps will pave the way for improved treatment of neurological disorders. Molecular Biologist Hanne Poulsen has just been awarded a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship valued at DKK 10 million for a five-year research project.

2015.02.05 | Lisbeth Heilesen

Hanne Poulsen has been awarded a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship valued at DKK 10 million for a five-year research project (Photo: Lundbeckfonden)

It is necessary for all cells in the human body that the sodium-potassium pump works as it should. The pump is a complex and fascinating machine that works from its position in the cell membrane to ensure the right balance between sodium and potassium ions in the intracellular and extracellular environments (Figure: Hanne Poulsen)

It is necessary for all cells in the human body that the sodium-potassium pump works as it should. The pump is a complex and fascinating machine that works from its position in the cell membrane to ensure the right balance between sodium and potassium ions in the intracellular and extracellular environments.                               

Hanne Poulsen is a postdoctoral fellow in molecular biology and was recently awarded a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship. In the coming years, she will carry out further research into the pump’s function and the errors that sometimes occur in it. These errors can lead to a number of serious neurological disorders.

- “My work is about getting to know more about the transport and accumulation of ions within and outside the cell. It involves shedding light on how the normal physiological imbalance – which is a prerequisite for normal cell function – is disturbed. When this happens, the consequences are enormous. My research focuses particularly on the pump’s basic mechanisms. By understanding them better, we’ll hopefully also gain greater insight into why errors in the pump lead to some rare – but often serious – neurological disorders. In the long run, this knowledge could possibly be used to understand more widespread diseases such as dementia or migraine,” says Dr Poulsen.

Supported by her fellowship, Dr Poulsen will be able to dive deep into the interior of the cell during the next five years. At the same time, she will have an opportunity to put together a research group of talented and promising scientists to assist her in the research project. The work will take place at Aarhus University, which once housed the research into the sodium-potassium pump that earned Professor Jens Christian Skou a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Dr Poulsen is both pleased and proud to be able to continue her work in molecular biology supported by a fellowship.

- “It’s a great privilege for me to be able to take part in research in an area that is important regarding the development of serious diseases. And it’s a great pat on the back to do it as a Lundbeck Foundation Fellow,” she says.

The talented researcher explains that drugs are already available that affect the sodium-potassium pump. However, she believes that the existing drugs can become even more effective.

-“With more basic knowledge about the pump’s functions, I hope that we get better at targeting the development of new kinds of drugs for diseases that have a limited selection to choose from today. My group and I will initially focus on work with the more rare diseases that particularly affect very young children. Looking to the future, however, I hope that the results we achieve will also be used in other medical contexts,” concludes Hanne Poulsen.


  • See interview with Hanne Poulsen. Video: Jesper Lykkegaard Karlsen and the Lundbeck Foundation.

Further information

Hanne Poulsen
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics/DANDRITE
Aarhus University
hp@mbg.au.dk - mobile phone: +45 30254065

Grant