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Origami at the molecular level

Professor Daniel Otzen has been awarded an EliteForsk Award for his contribution to the understanding of protein behaviour and its significance for folding in particular.

2014.02.06 | Ulla Vibeke Hjuler

Daniel Otzen (left) and four other researchers with the EliteForsk Award presented by her Royal Highness Pricess Mary and Minister for Educationand Research Sofie Carsten Nielsen (Photo: the Danish Research Council)

Daniel Otzen and students looking at FTIR spectra of fibrils in the protein alpha-synuclein (Photo: Martin Kurnik)

Bacteria with fibrils (Photo: Gunna Kristiansen – the colours are applied)

Professor Otzen, Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (iNANO) and Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, carries out research into protein molecules. His work is concerned with understanding how the cellular ‘workhorses’ – i.e. the proteins – are able to aggregate in large, well-organised structures that have both good and bad results. Protein clumping – also called aggregation – can lead to neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It can also result in blindness if the clumping is formed in the cornea and prevents light from striking the retina. Research into these processes is therefore vital for finding methods of treatment.

Professor Otzen has been working for several years with Pfizer – the research-based pharmaceutical company – to develop drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease. Targeted efforts are made to convert knowledge into medical products, but this requires absolute certainty that the drug can prevent unwanted aggregation processes – both in the test tube and at cellular level. In his opinion, this will take a few years yet.

Professor Otzen has a number of ideas as to how to use the EliteForsk Award of DKK 1 million. He has some ‘half wild’ ideas, which he is not yet ready to reveal. “There is a very thin line between a crazy idea and a stroke of genius – and, in any case, it has to be tried out first in the laboratory,” he says. There are numerous openings for research into amyloids, and the award winner can see fantastic opportunities for applying the available knowledge to develop and customise different nanotechnological solutions to urgent current problems.

Professor Otzen will share the personal award of DKK 200,000 with his family and spend it privately and on household renovations.

Interview med Daniel Otzen See interview in Danish with
Professor Otzen about this research

EliteForsk-prisen blev uddelt første gang i 2007, og siden har repræsentanter fra kongehuset og ministre uddelt fem priser hvert år. Prisen udgør 1,2 mio., hvoraf de 200.000 kr. er en personlig hæderspris, mens de 1 mio. kr. er beregnet på forskningsaktiviteter.

EliteForsk-prisen uddeles til forskere under 45 år, der har internationalt format. Formålet er, som det kan læses på hjemmesiden, ”at finde, styrke og pleje nogle af landets dygtigste og mest talentfulde forskere”. Endvidere hedder det, at ”universiteter, forskningsinstitutioner og private virksomheder med forskningsaktiviteter kan indstille kandidater til prisen. Alle indstillinger vurderes af Det Frie Forskningsråds bestyrelse, der udvælger og indstiller de fem kandidater til uddannelsesministeren.” Læs mere på www.eliteforsk.dk.


Professor Daniel Otzen
iNANO og Institut for Molekylærbiologi og Genetik
Aarhus Universitet
tlf. 2072 5238, mail: dao@inano.au.dk

Public / media, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics