Fighting for rare cancer patients

Meet Ninna Aggerholm-Pedersen


“Research in rare cancers does not draw much attention. It is difficult to do research because of the low number of patients, and large randomised clinical trials are impossible. National and international collaboration is, therefore, essential in sarcoma research.”


Her research as a molecular biology student was used in a clinical trial. From this point, she knew that research is much more meaningful for her when it is close to the clinic and patients. And this has only been strengthened during the years.

Today molecular biologist and medical doctor Ninna Aggerholm-Pedersen, born 1976, has a passion; treating sarcoma patients and patients with other rare cancers. According to her, these patients often experience that nobody knows about their disease and they often feel set aside for the more common cancers.

“We owe these patients to gain knowledge and evidence through national and international collaborations and research. However, research in rare cancers does not draw much attention. It is difficult to do research because of the low number of patients, and large randomised clinical trials are impossible. National and international collaboration is, therefore, essential in sarcoma research,” she says.

Increase patients' survival

Ninna Aggerholm-Pedersen has worked with sarcoma research for over ten years. Her PhD study as a doctor was about the  prognostic value of hypoxia molecular signature in sarcoma patients. In the last five years she combined clinical research activities with full-time clinical training jobs. Her research activities are primary molecular testing of prognostic and predictive parameters, including those of the immune system in rare cancers, especially sarcoma.

Portrait of Ninna Aggerholm-Pedersen
Photo: Simon Fischel, AU Health

“With extensive research and new molecular techniques, we can analyse and investigate the mechanism behind cancer initiation and progression of the disease. Suppose we could understand the mechanism behind the metastatic spread. In that case, we might also be able to prevent and thereby increase the patients' survival. In the ideal world without any limitation regarding funding, I wish that each patient would have a full genomic profile at diagnosis,” she explains.

Based on the genetic profile, the researchers will then be able to offer effective treatment with minimal side effect. The dosing should be individualized and not just standard dosing of the drug used.

“However, a lot of research has to be done before offering the patient a more personalised treatment with individual dosing of the treatment's medication,” Ninna Aggerholm-Pedersen says.

National focus on sarcoma patients

In the summer of 2019, she became a staff specialist with the responsibility of sarcoma patients. Ninna Aggerholm-Pedersen received the young investigator researcher grant from the Danish Kræftens Bekæmpelse, a donation from NOVO Nordisk foundation to perform clinical trials in sarcoma and a grant from Region Midtjylland to support a national sarcoma research strategy.

“Therefore, the work for more personalized medicine has begun. This led to an application to the new National Genome Centre to take sarcoma patients into consideration when choosing patients for new generations full genomic sequencing. And sarcoma patients are now included in one of the