New basic research centre will help us understand future pandemics
What can we learn from historical pandemics and COVID-19 to better prepare for future pandemics? This question will be the focus of the new basic research centre, formally named the “Centre for Interdisciplinary Study of Pandemic Signatures (PandemiX)”.
"I am extremely pleased that we will have the opportunity to establish a new basic research centre in the field of pandemics, because fundamental insights into the phenomenon play an absolutely crucial role in our preparedness against future pandemics. We need to do much more research on the specific impact or signature of pandemics on the population, so that we can be better prepared to fight infection, disease and death when the next pandemic occurs," says Lone Simonsen, head of the centre and professor of epidemiology.
New interdisciplinary research field
The special feature of the centre is that it will be interdisciplinary. The centre will focus on building a strong quantitative base with researchers in areas such as mathematical modelling, historical epidemiology, bioinformatics and clinical research. Secondly, the centre will engage in interdisciplinary collaborations with researchers in other research fields, such as sociology, economics, global studies, communication and bioethics.
"We want to develop “pandemiology” as a whole new interdisciplinary field of research, adopting a holistic approach and incorporating historical and societal circumstances as well as scientific facts. To understand the nature of pandemics, it is necessary to understand all aspects," explains Lone Simonsen and continues:
"Vaccines have been the best defence against COVID-19 and smallpox, which are airborne diseases. But it wasn't drugs or vaccines that stopped the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The contagion, which required close contact, was eliminated mainly by anthropologists, communication experts and local health authorities introducing less contagious burial rituals that were culturally acceptable."
Denmark is an ideal place to establish such a centre because we have both historical health data and contemporary register data that allows us to study and understand both historical and contemporary pandemics in far greater depth than in most other countries.
"We need to spend the coming years dissecting the COVID-19 pandemic and all the data that has been collected over the past years in Denmark and around the world. What characterises the beginning of the pandemic, the pandemic phase itself and its end-game? By delving into everything observed from this and previous pandemics, we gradually build up a catalogue of signatures and specific phenomena that we can take down from the shelf when the next pandemic comes along. Because there will definitely be new pandemics in the future that we need to be ready to deal with," says Lone Simonsen.
Putting Roskilde University on the pandemic map
For Roskilde University, the centre is a unique opportunity to place itself on the world map of excellence in research into pandemics.
"The grant for PandemiX as a Centre of Excellence is of major importance for Roskilde University's scientific environment and for the entire university. This underlines Roskilde University's strategic goal of creating cutting-edge interdisciplinary research with an international impact, also because it will reach out to other strong environments such as philosophy, history and global studies," says Hanne Leth Andersen, Rector of Roskilde University.
The plan is for the centre to host top researchers from other universities, both in Denmark and around the world. International partners include Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health in the US, and Cambridge University in the UK. In Denmark, researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), the North Zealand Hospital, the Danish Serum Institute and the National Archives are the key partners in the centre.
DKK 625 million in total for 11 Centres of Excellence
PandemiX at Roskilde University is one of a total of 11 basic research centres in which the board of the Danish National Research Foundation has recently decided to invest a total of DKK 625 million. The 11 basic research centres, Centres of Excellence, will engage in ground-breaking and innovative research that will help maintain Denmark's position as one of the world's leading research countries.
"We believe that the 11 new basic research centres will become international beacons in Danish research, that they will set the trend and create ground-breaking results in their field," says Professor Jens Kehlet Nørskov, Chairman of the board of the Danish National Research Foundation, in a press release, and continues:
"All applicants are of the highest calibre and the Foundation's board conducted an extensive and thorough process before selecting the 11 applicants who will now be invited to contract negotiations for the establishment of the new Centres of Excellence."
The new basic research centre will be established for a period of six years, with the possibility of extension for a further four years. The extension is subject to a satisfactory evaluation after five years.