About the Department – University of Copenhagen

About the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine

photo of ole william petersen 

Ole William Petersen
Professor of Tissue Morphology and Differentiation, DSc
room 18.4.14
phone (+45) 35 32 72 84

The Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, which was founded in 2007 as part of a reorganization of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, has already contributed several important new discoveries within the field of our research program including medical genetics, RNA and gene medicine, glycomics, molecular aging, and differentiation and morphogenesis. Several of these discoveries are pertinent to diagnosis and treatment of human diseases.

Within the medical genetics program in collaboration with Santaris Pharma we have for example shown in an animal model that systemic delivery of molecules (referred to as antimiRs), which interfere with certain cellular microRNAs, can reduce plasma cholesterol without any detectable side effects. Some of the success of this program relies heavily on major technological advances made in detection of these small molecules in tissue sections to see exactly which cells contribute to microRNA, but also on the implementation of a so-called high throughput next generation sequencing platform at ICMM. Via this program, we have managed to successfully communicate science to a broader audience exemplified by a worldwide cited study concerning the origin of human eye color.

Within the glycomics program we have been searching intensely for new enzymes which could be used to remove surface antigens defining the human blood types ABO in order to make universal blood cells that would not trigger an immune response. This program identified entirely new families of bacterial exoglycosidases with remarkably improved kinetic properties for cleaving A and B antigens. Enzymatic conversion of groups A, B and AB red blood cells with these novel enzymes resulted in type O cells. Presently, clinical trials evaluating safety and efficacy of such cells are ongoing. This discovery was ranked among the five most important scientific accomplishments worldwide and the head of the program has received several prestigious prizes to acknowledge the finding.

Within the RNA and gene medicine program we have managed to develop a novel ribozyme-mediated technology, which stabilizes ribonucleic acids (RNA) via a newly discovered RNA modification. Stabilization of mRNAs can be exploited in molecular biology, genetic engineering, genetics and possibly in disease treatment The further development of this idea has received support from the Proof-of-Concept Board and is included in the COBIS Biotech Incubator program. The technology is currently being tested in companies in four different countries and licensing negotiations have been started.

In the morphogenesis and differentiation program we have discovered a lineage hierarchy of the human breast and this has led to the first successful immortalization of different classes of cells within this hierarchy. Such lineage determined cells will be extremely important in future comparisons between normal and cancerous tissues in attempts to take into account the cellular origin of different subtypes of cancer. The cells are currently exploited by Avanti Cell Science (UK) as an alternative to animal testing. They are incorporated in culture conditions where cell performance is optimized by physiological relevant culture conditions to facilitate drug discovery. A tumor is an organ in itself, and it relies for its survival heavily on reciprocal interaction with the surrounding non-malignant stroma. One central component of the stroma is the microvasculature. We have dissected the role of inflammatory cytokines and intracellular signalling pathways on microvascular remodelling. Specifically we discovered that IL-20 significantly promotes endothelial cell tube formation without affecting cell proliferation and motility. These findings suggested that a vascular function of IL-20 involves endothelial cell organization, vessel maturation, and remodelling.

One critical step in the ongoing development of the ICMM research blueprint is the establishment of a new outstanding program in molecular aging. This will operate as part of an interdisciplinary effort at the University of Copenhagen within a new Center of Healthy aging. The Center builds on a 300 million kroner grant to the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences from the Nordea Foundation. Both the head of the centre and a world leader in molecular aging will based at ICMM.