Life science researchers attend symposium

A two-day symposium in the life sciences under the auspices of the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine gave researchers an excellent opportunity for interdisciplinary cross-border meetings. And the centre is looking forward to its new director, Mikael Sigvardsson, who takes his position at the turn of the year.

The symposium at the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine, WCMM, opened with an announcement: Stefan Thor, who has been director since the centre opened in 2016, is passing the reins to Mikael Sigvardsson at the turn of the year.Mikael SigvardssonMikael Sigvardsson will be the new director of WCMM. Photo credit: Daniel Windre/LiU

“The greatest challenge we are facing today is the need to create added value, such that we obtain more research results from the investment than if the money had been awarded to the researchers individually,” said Mikael Sigvardsson, professor of medical molecular biology at the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine.

Mikael Sigvardsson emphasised that one way of achieving this is to increase interaction between WCMM researchers – not only those at LiU, but also those at the four WCMM centres in Sweden, and at SciLifeLab in the Stockholm-Uppsala region.

Two-way science

The seminar presented results from all research fields at the centre. The first afternoon session took up pharmaceuticals research, focusing on how knowledge about protein structure can pave the way for important discoveries. Sir Tom Blundell, professor at Cambridge University and founder of two companies, illustrated how new knowledge can arise in the interplay between academic research and the pharmaceuticals industry.

“I’m a firm believer in the exchange of knowledge, rather than translating science. Science goes in both directions,” said Tom Blundell.Tom BlundellSir Tom Blundell, Professor at Cambridge University, presented insights from drug development research. Photo credit: Daniel Windre/LiU

Focusing on two very different conditions, cancer and infectious diseases, Tom Blundell took the audience on a journey through crucial discoveries and insights from his own research in the academic world. He pointed out that one of the greatest challenges in the pharmaceutical treatment of these diseases is that they often develop resistance to the drugs used. In recent years he has worked intensively with tuberculosis, where drug resistance is a major problem. Together with colleagues, he is using methods in AI in an attempt to predict which mutations in genes are the most likely causes of drug resistance.

“If I can remain at the university for ten more years, I will take on the challenge of developing drugs against resistant variants,” said Tom Blundell.

LiU researchers presented during Thursday afternoon several examples of research that may eventually lead to new medicines against cancer, or better diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer disease and Parkinson’s disease.

An extremely stimulating environment

A poster exhibition was an important part of the symposium. All research areas and the young, promising researchers who have been appointed Wallenberg Fellows at WCMM were represented there. Among the exhibitors was Stefan Koch, one of the first fellows who was brought to the centre. He has been building his research group since January 2017.Stefan KochStefan Koch. Photo credit: Daniel Windre/LiU

“It wasn’t difficult to decide to move to Linköping and WCMM when offered the opportunity. It was a marvellous possibility for me to continue to build on my research.”

Stefan Koch and his research group are working on cell signalling in the inflamed intestine. They are looking for answers to the mysteries surrounding chronic inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease.

“The deal I receive as a researcher at WCMM, with four years’ full-time research, is unique. In my home country of Germany, you’re more likely to be asked by the university how much research grants you can bring with you – the university provides a name and buildings where you can work, not much else,” said Stefan Koch.

Stefan Koch took his Ph.D. at the University of Münster and then worked as a postdoc at Emory University in Atlanta, USA. After this it was a further five years at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, before the WCMM in Sweden and Linköping came onto the horizon.

“For me as microbiologist, Linköping presents many exciting challenges – there’s a great deal of excellent research into the bowel here. And the university and WCMM provide a comfortable and friendly environment. There’s never any problem about contacting a professor to exchange ideas or test out a theory – this is an extremely stimulating environment.”

researchers involved in a discussionDiscussions at the poster session at the WCMM symposium 2017. Photo credit: Daniel Windre/LiU

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