Professor Patrik Rorsman has devoted his career to finding the link between good living and diabetes. Now he is appointed Wallenberg Scholar 2012, which means SEK 15 million SEK (2.3 million USD) for continued research into diabetes.
Patrik Rorsman works with experimental research into diabetes. At the moment his research group is looking at new findings indicating that one important underlying cause of the disease is disruption in the body’s insulin secretion, and that the shortage of insulin is made worse by the over-secretion of another hormone called glucagon.
“Glucagon is the body’s most important hormone for raising blood sugar levels, but its importance in connection with diabetes has not been given enough attention,” says Patrik Rorsman.
Having used the world-famous University of Oxford as his base for many years, Patrik Rorsman’s research has achieved major international recognition. He has now received even more recognition with the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation naming him Wallenberg Scholar 2012. This award means that Patrik Rorsman is guaranteed three million Swedish kronor a year over a five-year period to continue his research.
It is estimated that up to ten per cent of the population have diabetes – as many of half of them without knowing it – and diabetes is a major contributor to ill health. Diabetes is considered to be a lifestyle disease, although there are now also large numbers of diabetics in countries such as India and China.
“The cost burden on the economy is enormous. In the UK alone, where I’m currently working, it’s estimated that diabetes is the underlying cause of direct healthcare costs of around one million pounds – an hour,” says Patrik Rorsman
One question that 53-year-old Patrik Rorsman is very keen to answer during his research career is the connection between good living and the risk of diabetes.
“We know that the risk of suffering diabetes increases almost exponentially with body weight: the risk is low at low or normal body weight, but it increases dramatically in connection with obesity. This fact is now well known, but we actually have no idea of the causal connection,” he says.
Patrik Rorsman was born in Lund and grew up in the Småland town of Eksjö. He started on his medical career in Uppsala, where he completed his doctoral degree in 1986. There he met a like-minded researcher, John Sandblom, who took Patrik with him when he was appointed Professor at the University of Gothenburg.
“Both my wife and I really wanted to move to a higher profile area of Sweden, so I asked him if he needed a research assistant. He did, and the move to Gothenburg and Gothenburg University was decisive for my career.”
During his research career, Patrik Rorsman has worked at places including a laboratory in the German city of Göttingen, on a technique that was later awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991, through laureates Neher and Sakmann. He was thus one of the first people in the world to use this powerful technique on insulin-secreting cells. Research then took Patrik Rorsman via Copenhagen and Lund University to the University of Oxford, where he has had a professorship since 2003.
He is now returning to the University of Gothenburg and to the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the Sahlgrenska Academy, where he will be starting up a Department of Metabolic Physiology, which will study diabetes all the way from the secretion of insulin into the blood to its effect on organs.
“At the moment I’m working on a scientific study that provisionally indicates that a special factor in the intestine affects the secretion of glucagon by means of a totally new mechanism. It’s exciting!
“My attitude to life is that you should seize every chance you get to try something new. Of course I have the occasional regret, but nevertheless you always learn from your experiences. I’ve also been lucky that Margareta, my wife of 30 years, shares this attitude.”
Outside his life as a researcher, Patrik Rorsman devotes his time to his four adult children, to renovating his house and to reading – always against the background of Skåne’s Bjäre peninsula, with morning walks with eldest daughter Stina and Felix the dog an absolute must.