The Wallenberg Centre – research at the medicine-technology interface

The new Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine at Linköping University was officially opened on 8 December. The centre is one component of a major initiative in Swedish research in the field of life sciences. The opening was marked by a two-day scientific symposium.

Photo credit: Karin S?derlund LeiflerResearchers at the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine, WCMM, will in different ways get to grips with research questions in the interface between medicine and technology. These include visualisation and image processing, biomaterials and biosensors, regenerative medicine and bioinformatics. The centre is one component of a major initiative in Swedish research in the field of life sciences, to which the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation will contribute SEK 150 million in the coming nine years. LiU is contributing SEK 115 million and Region Östergötland SEK 56 million. Similar Wallenberg Centres, with other specialisations within the life sciences, have been set up in Lund, Gothenburg and Umeå.

The research groups that have been to associated with the centre will carry out their research within existing departments at the University Hospital Campus, Campus Valla and Campus Norrköping. Around 60 local research groups are already associated with the WCMM.

Photo credit: Karin S?derlund Leifler“We plan to bring in 15 further research groups,” said Stefan Thor, professor of developmental biology, and director of the WCMM.

“Several researchers have been recruited from outside Sweden, and will start work here next year.”

Medicine and technology meet

At the two-day symposium that was held to mark the opening of WCMM, several researchers associated with the centre gave examples of research that can arise when medicine and technology meet. Janos Vörös, professor at ETH Zürich in Switzerland and member of the scientific advisory board for WCMM, described how his research group had developed flexible electronic components that can be implanted into living tissue. The researchers hope to be able eventually to use the technology to stimulate damaged nerves in the spinal cord and enable patients to regain the ability to walk.

Photo credit: Karin S?derlund LeiflerJanos Vörös pointed out that many people who damage their spinal cord lose control of their urinary bladder. Some experience this as a greater problem than not being able to walk. For this reason, the Swiss research group has developed extremely flexible sensors that can be inserted into the bladder to measure how full it is. The sensor can be read by a detector outside the body and the result displayed on a mobile phone with the aid of RFID technology (which is used in such applications as bus tickets and theft-prevention systems in stores). The bladder sensor is now being evaluated in a study in which owners of dogs with incontinence problems can choose to take part. The owners receive a signal from the sensor that it is time to take the dog for a walk, and in this way accidents are prevented. The researchers are hoping that it will become possible to test the sensor in people with spinal cord injuries.

Janos Vörös noted that students have made important contributions during the development of the sensor.

“What I am most happy about is not that WCMM will be home to 15 brilliant researchers, but that it also means that hundreds of students will benefit from having access to these researchers and their research. We should all be happy about this, because we will be able to revolutionise the medicine of the future using technology.”

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