The Department of Biomedicine

The Cancer Society Gives Millions to Nils Halberg

Nils Halberg from the Department of Biomedicine will receive almost 8 million kroner from the Norwegian Cancer Society for his research on obesity and pancreatic cancer.

Halberg lab

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"Obesity affects cancer in different ways", says Halberg.

He is part of a larger research environment at the University of Bergen (including Anders Molven and Emmet McCormack) who research pancreatic cancer. This year he is the only researcher at UiB who will receive several million kroner from the Norwegian Cancer Society to continue his work.

Between 15 and 20 percent of cancer deaths are related to obesity. Halberg investigates how patients 'metabolism affects the cancer cells' metabolism, and their gene expression.

"In our research, we have seen interesting links between patients' metabolic status, ie metabolism and the development of cancer cells." What we see is that the cancer cells adapt to their environment", Halberg explains.

Epigenetic changes

What the research group has seen can shed new light on why obesity increases the risk of cancer, and highlights the need to adapt cancer treatment to the individual patient. A cancer cell in an overweight patient does not behave like a cancer cell in a slim person.

"The strand of DNA that contains all our genetic material has both open and closed areas that typically correspond to how active this part of the DNA is. This is called epigenetic regulation. We have seen that the environment that surrounds the cancer cells, ie the patients' body composition, affects which areas in the DNA strand are open or not. We believe that this regulatory mechanism is important for the development of pancreatic cancer", says Halberg.

Crucial fincancial support

Grants such as those from the Norwegian Cancer Society are critical for Halberg and the group to be able to continue their cancer research:

"Receiving research funding like this is absolutely crucial. This means that we can continue our work for another three years, and that is something we have worked hard for, says Halberg.

Halberg has previously received a starting grant from the Trond Mohn Foundation (formerly the Bergen Research Foundation). He also received funding from the Cancer Society in 2006 in an Open Call.


Translation: Margarethe Bittins