Novo Nordisk Foundation awards DKK 255 million for establishing the world’s most powerful protein “microscope”

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is supporting the establishment of an ultra-modern research platform in Lund, Sweden. The platform will enable researchers to investigate proteins at a level of detail not previously possible and can thus form the basis for developing new drugs. Researchers from Aarhus University have had a strong impact on the application.

2018.01.26 | Lisbeth Heilesen

MAX-IV-laboratory at Lund, Sweden. Photo: ©ABML4.

Although the research platform is placed in Sweden, Danish researchers' position in life science research will be greatly enhanced. Structural biologists at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University have had a leading role in the application to the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

-          Professor Gregers Rom Andersen from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics says: "I have participated in discussions and preparation of applications regarding the MicroMAX since 2013. It is a great satisfaction that the project is now being realized. It is in a way the ultimate facility for X-ray crystallography, which is now being built in Lund. I cannot wait to start using it."

-          Professor Poul Nissen, also from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, is also enthusiastic about the grant: "This will be the absolute world-leading facility for X-ray crystallographic studies of the structure of biomolecules and will move the boundaries of the complexity of the biological systems we can investigate. It will reverberate throughout the world and help us attract and educate the best talents and develop the best ideas in life sciences, medicine and biotechnology. With the MicroMAX, and also with cryoEM funding, the Novo Nordisk Foundation has shown the way with major joint projects to the leading environments in Aarhus and Copenhagen and between Denmark and Sweden."

New advanced planform to study and describe proteins

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a grant of DKK 255 million (€34 million) to the University of Lund for constructing and operating a highly advanced platform for studying and describing proteins. Proteins are biological building blocks and play a vital role in health and disease for all living organisms, including people.

The platform will be located at MAX IV, a Swedish national laboratory in Lund. MAX IV is a particle accelerator – a kind of microscope – producing powerful X-rays in various beamlines that enable researchers to magnify and see molecular details that would otherwise be invisible.

The Foundation’s grant will enable MAX IV to expand with a new advanced-technology X-ray beamline called MicroMAX, which is the world’s most advanced of its type.

MicroMAX will produce X-rays in a highly intense microscopic beam with a diameter equivalent to about one fiftieth the diameter of a human hair. When the beam strikes a sample, the scattered beam continues to a detector that provides information on the structure of a protein down to the atomic level. By mapping the structures of proteins, scientists will have a better opportunity to understand the key biological questions related to health and disease and to use this knowledge to create new types of drugs.

MicroMAX will be part of the Copenhagen Bioscience Cluster – a cluster of world-class research centres and infrastructure within biomedicine and biotechnology in Greater Copenhagen. Since 2007, the Foundation has awarded more than DKK 4 billion (€537 million) for establishing and expanding the Cluster.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation’s grant extends over 14 years and covers both the expected 4 years of construction and 10 years of operating MicroMAX.


About MicroMAX

The unique three-dimensional shapes of proteins determine their functions by enabling them to interact with other proteins and molecules. Understanding protein structures in very great detail opens new doors to understanding how proteins behave and communicate with each other. A common approach to determining protein structures is to place protein crystals between an X-ray beam and a highly sensitive detector. The X-ray beam interacts with the protein crystal, resulting in a pattern of scattered X-rays that can be detected and used to reconstruct the protein structure with atomic-level precision.

The ability to grow protein crystals of sufficient size and quality is a crucial bottleneck for this type of analysis and has left many important and therapeutically relevant proteins unexplored.

MicroMAX will produce X-rays in a very narrow but highly intense beam. The narrow beam width (slightly less than 1 micron (µm) or about one fiftieth the diameter of a human hair) will enable scientists to use much smaller crystals than before and greatly expand the range of proteins that can be studied structurally. In addition, MicroMAX will enable data from many such small crystals to be added up and therefore enable experiments to be performed at room temperature. This provides knowledge of atomic structures that are much more relevant for the functions of proteins in our bodies. It will also enable more sophisticated analysis of how proteins behave and interact with other molecules. This new insight can help in developing new medicines and in studying enzymes of interest for energy research and biotechnology.

MicroMAX will be open to all researchers with interesting and important scientific projects. Access will be granted based on scientific excellence. MicroMAX will also serve as a training centre in structural biology techniques and offer opportunities for young students to get acquainted with and be inspired by modern life-science research.

MicroMAX will serve a broad range of researchers throughout Denmark and internationally. It therefore has great potential to form the basis for outstanding research and innovative discoveries that will expand the frontiers of structural biology globally. MicroMAX is expected to open for users in 2022.

About MAX IV
MAX IV Laboratory, a Swedish national research infrastructure hosted by Lund University, is a user facility that supports science by providing researchers from a wide range of scientific fields with access to unique and advanced synchrotron radiation instrumentation and methods. MAX IV has significant experience in designing, constructing and operating synchrotron radiation facilities and related equipment. The MAX IV 3 GeV storage ring has unique properties in terms of brilliance and coherence. These characteristics offer significant opportunities for constructing and operating unique beamlines that can be used to describe materials within the natural and technological sciences.

MAX IV started admitting users in spring 2017. When it is fully developed in 2026, an estimated 2500 users annually will conduct research at 25 specialized beamlines using various techniques in imaging, spectroscopy and scattering.

Researchers often combine these techniques. Together, they offer researchers opportunities to study and develop new drugs, efficient batteries and solar cells as well as alloys, paper, fabrics and plastics with new functions. The concentrations of pollutants in water and soil can be measured to identify new ways to tackle contamination. Historical and archaeological objects can be examined, generating non-destructive three-dimensional images. Healthy and diseased cells and tissue can be analysed as a basis for developing new treatments. Read more at https://www.maxiv.se.


For further information, please contact

Professor Poul Nissen
DANDRITE/Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
Aarhus University, Denmark
pn@mbg.au.dk – +45 2899 2295

Professor Gregers Rom Andersen
Institut for Molekylærbiologi og Genetik 
Aarhus University
gra@mbg.au.dk - +45 30256646

Grant