Photo: Mikal Schlosser

Young researcher of the year will develop precision medicine

Friday 14 Dec 18
by Søren Ravn
Freshmen Frederik Gade won the title of ‘Young Researcher of the Year’ for his in-depth study of the actions of proteins in the body’s cells. Ahead lie the World Championships in Arizona in the USA.

If it is true that all research is driven by curiosity and the quest for knowledge, then Frederik Gade is no exception.

While a student at Odense Technical College, he often sat back in his classes on the function of cells and proteins with one unanswered question in particular—namely, why do proteins bind together in the body in the ways that they do? The question was never answered to his satisfaction and so he simply had to settle for the answer ‘this is how it works’.

So how do you deal with that? If you are Frederik Gade, you set yourself the task of exploring the area to find the necessary answers.

“I’ve always been comfortable with knowing how things work and why they do so in a particular way. It must make sense and it should preferably have a logical explanation that leads to a result and a conclusion. And in this project I was able to combine my interest in mathematics and computer science with my interest in life sciences and nature,” he says.

Frederik Gade began studying how most activity within the cells is caused by proteins that act, interact, and connect with each other, resulting in a given function. He focused on the widespread disease familial hypercholesterolemia which results in the accumulation of cholesterol in the body.

With the help of advanced computer simulations, he was able to investigate mutations in the human genome and understand how the mutations affect the proteins’ mechanisms. While two mutations can lead to the same illness, they may need to be treated differently. This can be done with precision medicine.

“Currently, a disease like familial hypercholesterolemia is treated using a broad-spectred solution—just as is the case with antimicrobial agents. My work aims to target the medical treatment, increasing the likelihood of producing a positive outcome. Armed with this knowledge, the industry can develop new medicines with specific impacts.”

His budding research resulted in a study project entitled: Interactome mapping applications. In spring, the project won praise and recognition at the Young Researcher of the Year competition held in Forum in Copenhagen, Denmark, securing first prize in in the Life Sciences category.

The prizes awarded by the National Centre for Learning in Science, Technology and Health in Denmark, Astra, give DKK 25,000 to the winner as well as access to several international competitions.

The first was the European Commission’s competition in Dublin in September with participation from young research talents from Europe and several countries from around the world.

“I was there for five days. It was a fantastic experience with lots of excellent pointed questions about whether I had taken various things into account. And then it became clear to me that it’s a pressing issue which others have been working on for a long time, so I can now expand my research using tried and tested methods,” he says.

Ahead lies a seminar for young scientists in Stockholm, Sweden in December and finally the World Championships for young researchers in Phoenix, Arizona in the USA in May.

He fully expects to continue working on the project, refining it, elaborating certain points, and expanding the data basis. At the same time, he has to keep up with his studies on the Human Life Science Engineering programme, and he is the first to concede that the timing of the trips could be better.

“The two trips take place in the middle of exam periods, so I should probably prepare for reexamination. But so be it. I would rather go through reexamination than miss out on meeting like-minded people with the same interest in and commitment to this field of research.”