Not only do they share a passion for soccer, but they completed their postdoc studies in the same building. Now Jan Holmgren and Marie Lagerquist have something else in common: they have each received a prize from Sahlgrenska Academy and the Göteborg Medical Society for groundbreaking medical research.
Sahlgrenska Academy and the Göteborg Medical Society are awarding prizes for long-term achievement and recognition of young researchers for the first time. The prizes consist of personal scholarships for SEK 500,000 and SEK 100,000. Current plans are for the prizes to be awarded once every five years.
Both recipients are honored by the recognition they have received.
“Getting this kind of acknowledgment so close to home is always an extra kick,” Dr. Holmgren says. “Not only that, but you don’t become the first recipient of a newly established prize every day of the week. Being recognized this way reminds us that the work we are doing is important.”
Dr. Lagerquist adds, “I am particular thrilled that the Göteborg Medical Society has made a point of highlighting the value of preclinical research.”
Leading vaccine researcher
As a leading researcher, Dr. Holmgren guided studies for the purpose of developing a drinkable cholera vaccine from basic exploration of disease and immune systems mechanisms in the 1970s all the way to clinical trials and the discovery of Dukoral, the final product, in the late 1990s. Having left the 70-year line behind him, he is sprinting as fast as ever. As a senior professor, he is pursuing a simpler, cheaper and even better drinkable cholera vaccine. He is also participating in a project for immunization against toxin-forming Escherichia coli (ETEC) and Helicobacter pylori, as well as an EU project for discovery of an arteriosclerosis vaccine.
“I have had the privilege of working with some of the top researchers in the field,” Dr. Holmgren says. “Many of my former colleagues have gone on to outstanding careers of their own.”
Widely acclaimed estrogen research
Dr. Lagerquist belongs to a younger generation of researchers. Though still in her 30s at this point, she was named the Ragnar Söderberg Fellow in Medicine back in 2012 and received the Young Fernström Prize in 2013. Her research focuses on the mechanisms by which estrogen protects bones and prevents fractures. Her goal is to lay the groundwork for an effective new estrogen-like drug for osteoporosis without the current adverse effects. Her discovery that estrogen signaling in the central nervous system can affect bone mass attracted a great deal of attention a few years ago.
“It was the first time anyone had shown that estrogen has an indirect impact on the nervous system,” Dr. Lagerquist says. “But we still don’t know exactly how it goes about doing that.” Her team is trying to unravel the mysteries that the discovery spawned.
She devotes a great deal of time to providing the team with the best possible resources, including skilled researchers who fit into the social setting as well. The five-member team is affiliated with the Center for Bone and Arthritis Research.
First in their families
Neither Dr. Holmgren nor Dr. Lagerquist come from families with an academic bent. After having earned their PhDs in Gothenburg, they both completed their postdoc studies at the Department of Clinical Microbiology on Guldhedsgatan: Dr. Holmgren in the early 1970s and Dr. Lagerquist 30 years later. Dr. Holmgren notes that competition is a lot stiffer these days when many more players are on the field. The difference is particularly striking when it comes to funding.
“Thirty years ago our institute had a greater influence on the allocation of research money than it does nowadays,” he says. “There’s no doubt that it was a much more hierarchical way of doing things.”
The pendulum has swung the other way. Research settings have become more democratic now that virtually all funding is from external sources. The downside is that researchers have essentially nowhere else to turn.
“A few young researchers manage to squeeze their way through the narrow tunnel, obtain large grants and make a career of it,” Dr. Lagerquist says. “For them, it’s a virtuous cycle because their success in obtaining funds is readily interpreted as a stamp of approval for the work they are doing.”
Sharing a passion for soccer
In addition to research, Dr. Holmgren and Dr. Lagerquist share a passion for sports, particularly soccer. Dr. Holmgren played for one of the best clubs in his home town of Borås and was an enthusiastic member of the Sahlgrenska doctor’s team until his hip started to give way. Dr. Lagerquist has also hung up her jersey but does everything she can to pass her interest on to her three children.
Citation of the prize committee
Nominees for the prize were unanimously chosen by a five-member committee from other Swedish institutions of higher learning under the leadership of Olle Stendahl at Linköping University. The directors of Sahlgrenska Academy and the Göteborg Medical Society jointly named the winners.
Professor Holmgren has been awarded the long-term achievement prize of the Göteborg Medical Society and Sahlgrenska Academy for groundbreaking research that ultimately led to a vaccine against cholera and other intestinal infections. He set the stage for the highly successful vaccine research that Sweden conducts and he is still active on the front lines.
Senior Lecturer Lagerquist has been awarded the young prize of Sahlgrenska Academy and the Göteborg Medical Society for innovative, clinically relevant studies concerning endocrine regulation of bone metabolism, particularly the role of estrogen signaling. As a promising young researcher, Dr. Lagerquist has already demonstrated independence of mind and an admirable ability to build an effective, well-financed research team
The prizes will be formally awarded on 3 June when the Göteborg Medical Society celebrates its 170th anniversary.