26 March 2019

Markus Heilig is one of five medical doctors active in research appointed to be Wallenberg Clinical Scholars. He receives a research grant of SEK 15 million to investigate why some, but not all, people become dependent on alcohol. The aim of the research is to develop a drug against alcohol dependence.

Markus Heilig and Estelle Barbier at the Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience, CSAN Photo credit Peter Holgersson

Markus Heilig, professor in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine at Linköping University, is searching for mechanisms in the brain that may lie behind some people developing alcohol dependence. Together with his colleagues, he has shown, among other things, that rats that prefer alcohol to a sugar solution have difficultly regulating the level of a signal substance, GABA, in the brain. Furthermore, he discovered by studying the brains of people who had died with alcohol dependence that these people had the same problem regulating the level of GABA.

The Wallenberg Clinical Scholars programme is conducted by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in collaboration with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. As Wallenberg Clinical Scholar, Markus Heilig will receive SEK 15 million during a five-year period to investigate mechanisms behind alcohol dependence, with the possibility of a five-year extension.Markus Heilig

“The grant gives us the freedom we need to invest in long-term, high-risk projects, which is otherwise difficult. It can’t be guaranteed that all projects will bear fruit, but important results often come from high-risk projects”, says Markus Heilig.

Markus Heilig is planning to study which parts of the brain are active in people with high and low alcohol consumptions, when they are given the choice between alcohol and something else that stimulates the reward system. He will also investigate whether it is possible to counteract alcohol dependence by altering the level of GABA in the brain with the aid of drugs.

The aim of the Wallenberg Clinical Scholars programme is to strengthen Swedish clinical research in the long term. During the programme, a total of 25 prominent clinical researchers will be granted funds for research, and universities with a faculty of medicine are invited to nominate scientists for such grants. Being appointed a Wallenberg Clinical Scholar has a special significance for Markus Heilig, who divides his time between research at Linköping University and clinical work as consultant in the psychiatric clinic at Linköping University Hospital.

“It has been important to me in my career not to relinquish clinical work. It is here that I obtain inspiration for research”, says Markus Heilig.

More information about the Wallenberg Clinical Scholars:

Translated by George Farrants


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