Transatlantic Ties Turn 10

March 14, 2016

Teaming with two Norwegian universities has created a robust environment for joint research and collaboration with the College of Biological Sciences.

Norwegian flag

Claudia Schmidt-Dannert
Look in any phone directory in Minnesota, and, after you make your way through all the “Andersens,” “Larsens,” and “Olsens” listed there, you’ll probably agree that Norway is still a major influence in the North Star State. As a notable Norwegian-Minnesotan scientific partnership marks its 10-year anniversary, university researchers are looking back on a successful agreement that supports transatlantic collaboration in a broad range of disciplines through opportunities for research and education.

“The Norwegian Centennial Chair (NOCC) program has taken place across the ocean instead of within an institution,” says Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, NOCC chair and Distinguished McKnight Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics. “With the still-significant Norwegian influence in our state, it’s a natural fit.”

The strategic tri-partite collaboration includes the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and the University of Oslo (UiO). The program has led to the establishment of new collaborative research programs with NMBU, UiO and the university. Six research teams with faculty from four colleges (CBS, CSE, CFANS and the Medical School) are working together on joint research projects with Norwegian faculty, with seed funding provided by NOCC. Last year, the university renewed its agreement to continue support of the Norwegian Centennial Chair through 2018.

Schmidt-Dannert’s team is currently reviewing new funding applications. “We’ve received a number of applications and we’re off to a good start,” she says. “New teams have formed, with new collaborative proposals and new investigators who may not have been interacting before.”

Associate Professor Thomas Neufeld received one of the first seed funding grants and has applied for more funding in this new round. A Ph.D. student from Norway, who had worked with mammalian cells grown in culture in her university’s lab, traveled to Minnesota to work in Neufeld’s lab, which uses fruit flies. “We study cellular autophagy, which, when disrupted, can be a factor in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s, as well as cancer, obesity, and inflammatory diseases,” he says. He hopes that a new round of funding will allow for further research on neurodegeneration and neurons.

This summer, a teaching workshop, the North Star Summer Institute, will gather professors from Minnesota and Norway on the university campus to introduce new teaching methods for undergraduate classrooms. “Our focus with NOCC is on education as well as research, so this is very much in alignment with our mission,” Schmidt-Dannert says. — Julie Kendrick

“The Norwegian Centennial Chair program has taken place across the ocean instead of within an institution. With the still-significant Norwegian influence in our state, it’s a natural fit.” – Claudia Schmidt-Dannert

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