Prestigious prize awarded to Danish “NorFA professor”

Professor Mads Melbye at the National Serum Institute in Copenhagen has been awarded the Novo Nordisk Foundation Prize 2005 worth DKK 1 million. Professor Melbye’s background includes a stint as a NorFA visiting professor and he has also held several PhD courses with the aid of NorFA funding.
For a long time Mads Melbye has been involved in the study of data from large population-based registers, and in this connection he has benefited greatly from his cooperation with, among others, the researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, where he has been a visiting professor.

“It is precisely the gathering of resources in the different countries that gives us the opportunity to create unique and useful research. Many small-scale studies have been made, but these are not actually scientifically valid because the body of data collected is too small,” says professor Melbye, who adds that he got a lot out of his visiting professorship.

“The cooperation we established also gave us the opportunity to tutor PhD students together. When my three-year post as visiting professor came to an end, we ‘took stock of the situation’ and found out that we had produced 25 articles involving several of the Nordic countries, and that many of these articles had been ranked very highly, receiving an average score of 10.8 on the citation index,” says Mads Melbye.

Professor Melbye is himself responsible for every fifth original scientific article from Denmark to have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine over the last ten years. One of the world’s most recognised medical journals, the New England Journal of Medicine has more than any other journal set the agenda for health policy.

The epidemiologist has great faith in cooperation between the Nordic countries, particularly given the countries’ similarities and the unique population registers available here.

“We have the opportunity to conduct major epidemiological studies in a better way than in any other place in the world. The Nordic countries must focus on this field, since it is the only area where we have the possibility to carry out such studies.”

Mads Melbye was one of the world’s first AIDS researchers, and he demonstrated in epidemiological terms that the disease is sexually transmitted. He has also studied the significance of viruses on the development of cancer among humans. Professor Melbye’s research group has presented important results that help our understanding of how a virus can produce cervical cancer and that the same virus can yield rectal cancer.

Recently his research group documented that Hodgkin’s disease can in some cases be caused by an infection with the so-called Epstein-Barr virus. That the same virus also produces cancer of the nose and throat among Greenlanders is a subject that Melbye has studied for 20 years. Professor Melbye’s research group has also proven that the first phase in the development of acute lymphatic leukaemia among children occurs in the embryonic stage. The research group has also played a crucial role in bringing about changes to the international recommendations for treatment of young women suffering from breast cancer, which in turn has helped improve patient survival.
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