19 June 2018

Prestigious Prize Rewards Elite Researchers in Epigenetics and Cardiovascular Diseases

KFJ prize

Kristian Helin and Anne Tybjærg-Hansen from the University of Copenhagen receive this year’s KFJ Prize for their ground-breaking contribution to research in e.g. cancer, epigenetics and atherosclerosis. Along with the prize from Kirsten and Freddy Johansen’s Foundation each of the two professors receives DKK 1.5 million.

This year Anne Tybjærg-Hansen, professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Copenhagen and consultant doctor at Rigshospitalet, and Kristian Helin, professor and director of the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen, are rewarded for their epoch-making research results over the years with a prize from Kirsten and Freddy Johansen’s Foundation.

The annual KFJ Prize is awarded to research within the health and medical sciences, among others, and previously researchers dealing with anything from psychiatry to muscles have received the acclaimed research prize. Anne Tybjærg-Hansen is awarded the clinical prize, while Kristian Helin receives the pre-clinical prize. Both professors receive DKK 1.5 million in addition to the prize.

In the course of their careers both have obtained international recognition within their respective disciplines. They have headed significant, large-scale research projects and played main roles in research within their fields, which, among other things, is evident from their impressive number of citations.

Cloning of E2F1
Kristian Helin has reached many milestones in his career, but especially his stay as a postdoc at Harvard Medical School in the 1990s became crucial to his career. Here Kristian Helin managed, as the first person ever, to clone the transcription factor E2F1, which plays a main role in cell division. His discovery proved important to scientists’ understanding of normal cell growth and to cancer research.

’It was crucial. I managed to identify this factor, which was very important to our understanding of how cell growth is regulated and to my own research the following 10 years. It more or less meant that the entire world was open to me in terms of positions’, he says.

Today, almost three decades later Kristian Helin has produced a series of ground-breaking research results and, among other things, helped start a biotech company. During his time at the University of Copenhagen his research has focussed on epigenetics and cancer, in particular.

‘We have achieved a lot of results that are important to our understanding of how normal cell growth and differentiation are regulated, which again is important to our ability to develop new therapies for the treatment of cancer patients. We take a basic science approach, but make a point of ensuring that our research can be used in a clinical context’, he says.

A Pat on the Back
It has always been important for Kristian Helin to challenge himself and to continue to ask big questions in his research. And he considers the KFJ Prize a great recognition of his work and a pat on the back.

‘Research is not uncomplicated. One of the greatest forms of recognition you can get as a researcher is probably when the work you do is acknowledged by others and believed to make a difference’, he says.

After having served as director of BRIC for 15 years Kristian Helin will soon be moving parts of his research to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York in the USA. Here he will be chair of the Sloan Kettering Institute’s Cell Biology Programme and director of the Center for Epigenetics Research. At the same time, though, he will continue to be affiliated with UCPH as professor.

The Importance of Genetics to Common Diseases
As a researcher Anne Tybjærg-Hansen has always been interested in genetics and large common diseases. Her research has focussed on the importance of genetics to atherosclerosis, cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases, among others.

She was the first to describe the familial defective apolipoprotein B-100, a unique form of hereditary elevated cholesterol, and she has helped detect a special genetic variant in some people that causes their risk of atherosclerosis to be reduced by almost half. This genetic variant formed the basis of the development of medicine for lowering the level of fat in the blood. In addition, she has done a lot of research into HDL cholesterol, also called the ‘good cholesterol’.

‘The good cholesterol is not good at all, but neutral, if anything. Among other things, we did tests that examined whether people who had inherited different genetic variants, which lower HDL levels significantly, had an increased risk of developing heart disease. They did not. It had no effect’, she says.

Biobank in Østerbro
In the 1990s she headed the launch of the genetic part of the large population survey in Østerbro in Copenhagen. The biobank turned out to be vital to obtaining new knowledge on the causes of atherosclerosis, among other things. Later she helped launch the Herlev-Østerbro survey, which currently includes more than 120,000 individuals.

Over the years Anne Tybjærg-Hansen has produced a number of ground-breaking research results. Last year she was among the one percent most quoted researchers in the world within her field of research, according to the Highly Cited Researchers List.

‘I have been driven by my interest in addressing specific clinical issues. And of course, I am a clinician “by heart” and very interested in research. And that is also why receiving this prize in recognition of my work is so important to me’, she says about receiving the KFJ Prize.

The KFJ Prizes are presented at a ceremony in the University of Copenhagen Ceremonial Hall at Vor Frue Plads on 19 June from 12pm to 3pm.

Professor Kristian Helin
Email: kristian.Helin@bric.ku.dk
Phone: +45 35325668

Professor and Consultant Doctor Anne Tybjærg-Hansen
Email: anne.tybjaerg.hansen@regionh.dk
Phone: +45 35454159

Press Officer Cecilie Krabbe
Mail: cecilie.krabbe@sund.ku.dk
Phone: +45 93565911