GRANTS. Emma Börgeson, Johanna Höög, Elisabet Jerlhag Holm and Malin Johansson have each received SEK 6 million from the Swedish Research Council’s call for young scientists. Their fields are metabolic syndrome, communication between cells, the reward system of the brain and the protective mucus layer of the gut.
Emma Börgeson completed her postgraduate studies at University College Dublin and is just finishing up her EU-financed postdoctoral research at UCSD. Her current studies focus on lipoxins, a class of lipid mediators with anti-inflammatory properties. Her recent article in Cell Metabolism demonstrated that they promote a “metabolically healthy” phenotype in obese laboratory mice.
“Mice that receive lipoxin treatment are more resistant to developing obesity-induced liver and kidney disease. Importantly, this is independent of weight gain and the key mechanism of action appears to be reduced inflammation in the visceral adipose tissue, which is a known driver of disease” Dr. Börgeson says.
In collaboration with Professor Lars Fändriks and surgeon Ville Wallenius at the University of Gothenburg, she has collected human tissue samples and treated them with lipoxins outside of the body, in an attempt to translate her findings to human pathophysiology.
“Preliminary data suggests that the conclusions from my animal studies may be transferrable to human pathophysiology,” Dr. Börgeson says. “Lipoxins appear to reduce inflammation in human adipose tissue explants, which serves as an encouraging proof-of-concept for future work. The generous Research Council grant will allow me to continue this exiting work.”
Johanna Höög, originally from Trollhättan, received her undergraduate education in Oxford and her postgraduate training at the European Molecular Biology Laboratories in Heidelberg. She has been a post-doc in Oxford and a visiting scholar in Boulder, Colorado, as well as in German Dresden. At the moment, she is research fellow in Prof. Jan Lötvalls group at Krefting Research Centre, where she does research of extracellular vesicles:
“There are lots of vesicles, tiny bubbles, full of information in the form of RNA or DNA that are dispatched from cells and absorbed by other cells. In each body fluid investigated such as blood, urine, saliva, breast milk, and semen, are these vesicles and their messages freely in the liquid”, Dr. Höög explains.
When Dr. Höög’s cryo-electron microscopic research on human semen met the extracellular vesicles research by Prof. Lötvall, they discovered a novel group of extra-cellular vesicles with highly unexpected features.
“We are going to investigate this new sub-category of cellular messengers further for the next four years”, Dr. Höög states.
She is granetd SEK 3.2 million from the Swedish Research Council call in natural sciences research.
Elisabet Jerlhag Holm obtained her PhD in 2007 at the Department of Pharmacology under the supervision of Jörgen Engel. They were the first researchers to show that ghrelin, a peptide hormone, triggers the reward system of the brain, a key neuroendocrine finding. She has conducted postdoc research with three different teams at Sahlgrenska Academy, as well as at the Ernst Gallo Institute in San Francisco.
“I am both humbled and honored by this expression of trust and confidence by the Research Council,” Dr. Holm says. “I am also relieved, because our team has become quite large and our resource requirements have grown commensurately.”
The team is exploring the mechanisms in the brain that are responsible for addiction and dependency. The peptides that regulate appetite are in the spotlight.
“What fascinates me most is the translational nature of our research, the ability to reproduce laboratory results in human genetic studies and the like,” Dr. Holm says. “We have found correlations between the mechanisms that lead to substance abuse and the role of peptide hormones in sexual pleasure and other reward systems.”
Malin Johansson is an internationally acclaimed researcher in the field of mucosal biology. She studies the mechanisms of the protective mucus layer in the intestines, as well as associated disorders that are responsible for ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory conditions.
“The Research Council grant reconfirms in my mind that our studies are meeting rigorous standards,” Dr. Johansson says.
After obtaining her PhD from Sahlgrenska Academy in 2009 under the supervision of Gunnar C. Hansson, she studied mucins for a while at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. She has now struck roots at Sahlgrenska Academy. The announcement by the Research Council is the sequel to a previous three-year grant for young scientists.
“Now I will be in an even better position to explore the ways that the large quantities of intestinal bacteria protect against external threats,” Dr. Johansson says.
She will be taking advantage of the new resources to expand the team and launch various projects, particularly with respect to the different protective components and the action of the goblet cells that secrete mucus. Mucus and mucins represent an ancient evolutionary system that is regulated at a number of different levels to ensure effectiveness and dynamism.
“Our knowledge at this point is extremely superficial, and my curiosity is tickled by all the questions that remain to be answered,” Dr. Johansson says. “Mucus is tricky to deal with, and we have no choice but to think in innovative ways. Trying to understand what kinds of cells are able to produce such a viscous, insoluble substance is a daunting challenge.”