Curious how fit in with the innovative thinkers in the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery’s research lab? It’s simple: have a deep passion to better the lives of others, and have the unending belief that you will do just that. Case in point: Fredrik Kristensen, whom we will be saying goodbye to this week when he returns to Denmark after two months as a visiting researcher.
“Preventing chronic disease is my main goal in life,” explained Kristensen. His focus: polyneuropathy and the use of statin therapy. Statin is a class of cholesterol-lowering medication often given to patients with Type 2 Diabetes, and Kristensen is investigating its effect on polyneuropathy. Since studies show that it could in fact increase the risk of the complication, he is working to understand this association more clearly.
Born in Hoven, a town on the west coast of the Denmark portion of Jutland, Kristensen was the son of a potato farmer and nurse. He has a younger sister who is studying for a master’s degree in global engineering and manufacturing, along with a twin, currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Copenhagen, who shares an interest in medical research and studies the relationship between the immune system and cancer cells.
Kristensen himself is currently in the equivalent of medical school at Aarhus University, spending a portion of his research year with PNRD. Research years are voluntary opportunities to explore the world of research, after which students can apply for a Ph.D. program if they so choose. His specific department, clinical epidemiology, has a long tradition of sending its research students on exchange programs. Kristensen’s supervisor, Reimar W. Thomsen, Ph.D., Associate Clinical Professor at Aarhus University, is a friend, colleague and collaborator of our own Fovette E. Dush Associate Professor of Neurology Brian Callaghan, M.D., and believed exposure to Dr. Callaghan’s work in epidemiology would be the perfect introduction to American research and the impressive University of Michigan Hospital. The two met at the International Diabetic Neuropathy Consortium.
Kristensen remarked that the inspiring nature of the diabetes focus groups within PNRD piqued his interest to do more research within the field of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Another impactful experience was attending clinic with Dr. Callaghan and observing first-hand patients with diabetic polyneuropathy.
“It’s a horrible disease, and we can only treat the symptoms, not turn back the clock. I found my time at U-M valuable in my efforts to study it in both clinical research and basic science. Collaboration is absolutely invaluable,” explained Kristensen.
Kristensen noted that research in U.S. is not that different from what he has experienced in Denmark, but found one benefit working in his home country. Denmark’s medical databases trace the entire population from birth until death. In the U.S. patients are usually tracked for a shorter period of time. He was also fascinated with the way Dr. Callaghan and PNRD have developed an impressive cache of resources for both data and other needs.
It seems that Dr. Callaghan is equally impressed by Kristensen: “Frederik is a great young clinical researcher. He knows how to use large clinical databases to answer interesting clinical questions. He asks great questions and is a very willing learner. He is an even better person. He hit it off with our family, especially my 7- and 9-year old girls when we went to a U-M football game. I fully expect him to have a great long career as a physician-scientist.”
This was Kristensen’s first trip to the U.S. and first experience with American football. “It was huge,” he said of The Big House. “The atmosphere was great, but the game American football itself is from a European point of view hard to understand. But I really enjoyed the atmosphere.”
Kristensen says that Ann Arbor reminds him of Denmark, with its greenery, friendly population and liberal quality. He can now be counted among Zingerman’s Deli devotees and will fondly remember biking to the Dexter Cider Mill for its “awesome” doughnuts.
The Program for Neurology Research & Discovery wishes Fredrik all the best, but we won’t say goodbye, just see you later.