Four universities and Lundbeck Foundation boost Danish brain research and talent development with new neuroscience academy

University of Copenhagen

With a programme grant of DKK 187 million from Lundbeck Foundation, the framework is established for an ambitious new growth dynamo for neuroscience in Denmark – the Neuroscience Academy Denmark (NAD). The aim of this decentralised academy for brain research is to promote talent development at Danish universities and pave the way for new research and breakthroughs within brain-related disorders.

X-ray photos of human brains.
Photo: Colourbox

Disorders of the brain and the central nervous system represent a constant – and costly – threat to our welfare society and public health, and with an ageing population, the human and economic costs will only increase in future.

And while Denmark is keeping pace with international neuroscience research, additional funding and better study programmes are needed to attract more keen minds to the field and enable Denmark to take a more prominent position at the forefront of international neuroscience research in coming years.

The establishment of the Neuroscience Academy Denmark (NAD) puts Danish universities and Lundbeck Foundation a big step closer to that goal. NAD’s remit is to promote talent development and secure the future of Danish neuroscience, which seeks to expand our understanding of the brain, the central nervous system and the biology behind a wide range of brain disorders, including Parkinson’s, ALS, cancers of the brain, epilepsy, migraine, depression, schizophrenia, autism and ADHD. The ultimate aim is to increase the chances of developing effective treatments.

‘It’s a dream come true to be able to offer an ambitious four-year programme that gives PhD students a world-class education in neuroscience research and the opportunity to work on projects that will increase their chances of understanding and treating brain disorders. These students will be trained at the best laboratories in Denmark, and we expect this to result in new collaborations across the country and between basic research and clinics. We’re very much looking forward to opening the doors and getting to know the new PhD students. We want to recruit the best of the best from Denmark and abroad – and make them even better,’ says Professor Jakob Balslev Sørensen, NAD Scientific Director from the University of Copenhagen.

48 projects in six years

Many years in the making, the neuroscience academy is the result of close collaboration between the Danish Society for Neuroscience, the University of Copenhagen (KU), Aarhus University (AU), Aalborg University (AAU), and the University of Southern Denmark (USD) – with special support from Lundbeck Foundation. As an advanced research school, this is the first academy of its kind in Denmark within neuroscience.

It’s a dream come true to be able to offer an ambitious four-year programme that gives PhD students a world-class education in neuroscience research and the opportunity to work on projects that will increase their chances of understanding and treating brain disorders..

The vision behind NAD is to educate the neuroscientists of the future by creating in Denmark a unique learning, development and research environment at PhD level for younger scientists holding degrees in a range of neuro-related disciplines, including biology, chemistry, medicine, pharmacology, genetics and psychiatry.

The new PhD programme will include a very wide selection of advanced courses within neuroscience – and, as a first in Denmark, it will begin with an introductory year before the start of the three-year PhD programme.

Lundbeck Foundation has pledged to support NAD with a grant totalling DKK 187.3 million over the period 2022-2028 – paving the way for 48 PhD projects.

The preparations are now so far along that from autumn 2022, NAD expects to be able to welcome the first group of junior researchers. In all 16 researchers, selected from among top-qualified candidates in Denmark and from abroad will be offered ‘enrolment in this outstanding four-year PhD programme which has now been created within neuroscience,’ explains Jan Egebjerg, Director of Research at Lundbeck Foundation:

‘The programme prioritises interdisciplinary collaboration – that is collaboration between a wide array of academic disciplines, such as medicine and pharmacology. These collaborations are a prerequisite for creating the kinds of translational research environments that make up the backbone of NAD. These are research environments with a clear focus on producing results to achieve the ultimate aim of improving treatment of brain-related disorders. And it will take a new approach to research for Denmark to become a world leader in neuroscience within the next ten years. NAD will be a dynamo for talent development and a key factor in efforts to reach that goal,’ emphasises Jan Egebjerg.

Danish neuroscience with an international outlook

The PhD students who enrol in the NAD programme will meet a very ambitious research and development environment that alternates between the acquisition of new theoretical knowledge, laboratory research, and continuous contact to patient treatment within each researcher’s individual field of study.

The experienced neuroscientists who will be teaching and providing guidance come from four major Danish universities – KU, AU, AAU and SDU – all of which will be making their best minds available to the programme. Furthermore, NAD will enter into collaboration agreements with a large number of distinguished neuroscientists from academic environments and treatment institutions outside Denmark. As part of these agreements, it will also be possible for the PhD students to study abroad and work in the laboratories of the international experts affiliated with NAD.

The first year of the PhD programme comprises a special combination of introductory courses and preparatory work in different laboratories – and with guidance, the individual student will draw up a plan for the PhD project they each which to conduct.

Once all the prerequisites for embarking on the actual PhD project are met, the students then have three years to complete their project – and throughout the period, they will be paid at a level corresponding to the State’s rate for a PhD scholarship. Furthermore, during the final three years, NAD will – in addition to providing PhD guidance – offer courses and seminars, and facilitate collaborations with other students conducting research within the same main field.

‘The establishment of NAD is an important part of Lundbeck Foundation’s strategy for developing future research talents,’ according to Peter Thostrup, Scientific Director of Lundbeck Foundation’s talent programmes:

‘The academy will serve as a national “hub” – we want to maximise the benefit from all the excellent qualifications within neuroscience and the treatment of brain disorders that exist all around Denmark. And combining this with international collaborations will create an environment that enables us, in future, to educate more talented PhDs within neuroscience.’

The four universities will share responsibility for NAD’s day-to-day operations through a joint secretariate to be located at the University of Copenhagen. NAD will have its own board, where the Danish Society for Neuroscience and Lundbeck Foundation will each be represented as observers with no voting rights.

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