YOUNG RESEARCHERS. Michael Schöll is the latest researcher to be recruited to the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular and Translational Medicine in Gothenburg. He brings with him expertise about an imaging technology for the brain that was not available here before, which will mean new, and more far-reaching opportunities to study the diseases of the brain.
This ‘PET’, i.e. positron emission tomography, scanning is a medical imaging technology that uses radioactive markers to create images of, for example, glucose metabolism in the different organs of the body. The technology itself has existed for over forty years, and of course has been in use in Gothenburg for a long time, but has not been used to research the brain here before. This is due to the fact that PET scans require radioactive markers, so-called ‘ligands’, which it had not been possible to produce in Gothenburg, until now.
“The investment in the Center for Imaging and Intervention (Bild- och interventionscentrum) and the new cyclotron are opening up new opportunities for PET in Gothenburg. Bit by bit, we will be able to produce our own ligands, which we will be able to use to create images of different disease processes in the brain, including how the metabolism changes and how different harmful proteins accumulate,” says Michael Schöll, who recently joined the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular and Translational Medicine.
A Neuroscientific PET Laboratory
The discovery of new ligands means that PET is an in-demand technology within Alzheimer’s research at the moment, and it is against this backdrop that Michael Schöll himself is now starting the work to set up a neuroscientific PET lab in Gothenburg. After Uppsala, Stockholm, Malmö/Lund, Umeå and Linköping, Gothenburg is now the sixth university location in Sweden to get its own cyclotron.
“Sweden is a small country, and I believe more in working together than competing. I hope that our studies will complement each other – those of us at Gothenburg, for example, hope to be able to build on the excellent research already being conducted in Lund or at KI,” Michael tells us.
He has recently appointed his first postdoctor, Kerstin Heurling, who is an experienced research engineer from Uppsala. So far, the majority of his research work has been done in close collaboration with Lund, whose radiochemistry department had been supplying Gothenburg with ligands, collaborating with Oskar Hansson on ‘Swedish Biofinder’, a Lund-based study, which provides him with access to a well-characterized cohort of research into neurodegenerative diseases.
From Ulm to Gothenburg, via Cologne, Stockholm and Berkeley
Michael Schöll comes from Germany originally, training first of all as a doctor at Ulm, before then qualifying in neuroscience at Cologne. When the time came for him to choose a project for his thesis, he applied to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, where Agneta Nordberg is an eminent figure and known for use of PET in research into Alzheimer’s. He remained part of the group at KI and defended his thesis, the topic of which was a study of humans with an unusual type of hereditary Alzheimer’s disease, whereby the mutations always causes the disease, in 2011. He investigated people carrying these mutations using a PET camera many years before the disease broke out in order to see what happens in the brain as early as possible during the disease process.
Gothenburg, like Stockholm, is also home to world-leading research into Alzheimer’s. Michael Schöll, for example, has been collaborating with Kaj Blennow and Henrik Zetterberg, who head up the highly successful work done at the neurochemistry lab at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology in Mölndal, for many years already.
“They are researching the disease processes involved in Alzheimer’s using biomarkers in spinal fluid. The things they see in this fluid, I try to chart directly in the brain. Kaj and Henrik are fantastic partners to work with, and I am so happy to be here in Gothenburg,” beams Michael, before continuing:
“I plan to get to work with Tau-PET, which is the very latest development in the field of PET and Alzheimer’s. PET in general is an incredibly flexible technology that in theory can provide images of the entire disease process during Alzheimer’s, so long as we find and use the right ligand. Within the field of neurodegenerative diseases, PET remains first and foremost a research tool, since it is too expensive to be used as much clinically as lumbar puncture; I will however try to ensure it becomes available to Sahlgrenska’s memory clinic in Mölndal as part of my work.”
It was back in 2012, the year after completing his thesis, that Michael was lured to Gothenburg by Kaj and Henrik, who were keen to collaborate with him on a greater scale. Once set up in Gothenburg, Michael realized that the time wasn’t right just yet – no cyclotron available yet of course – so he applied to the University of California, Berkeley instead, where he worked as a postdoc for a number of years.
“My research is all about teamwork, so I am extremely dependent on my collaborations with others. There are a number of highly successful researchers here in Gothenburg, with whom I’m already collaborating, where there is plenty of potential.”
One collaboration he is looking forward to developing is his work with Ingmar Skoog, who heads up AgeCap:
“Many of the individuals involved in the H70 population study have also provided samples of spinal fluid, and I want to work with Ingmar researching the most interesting individuals with PET. The population study that Ingmar is heading up is an incredibly exciting project – I’m really looking forward to working together with him,” says Michael.
He has already started another collaboration, with Göran Bergström, who has overall responsibility for SCAPIS, a nationwide study that is seeing six university hospitals study the cardiovascular health of 30,000 Swedes.
“Our long-term aim is to show what happens in the brains of individuals who are aging healthily, and compare this with those who are developing dementia,” says Michael.
He has also found a scientific home in the shape of MedTechWest, which is a cross-disciplinary collaboration platform being run collectively by Chalmers, the University of Gothenburg, the University of Borås, Sahlgrenska University Hospital and Region Västra Götaland. MedTechWest is providing Michael Schöll with access to both technical infrastructure as well as collaborations with other MedTechWest researchers, such as Rolf Heckemann and Fredrik Kahl.
ABOUT THE WALLENBERG CENTRE FOR MOLECULAR AND TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE
- The Wallenberg Centre for Molecular and Translational Medicine (WCMTM) is a part of a national endeavor to strengthen Sweden’s position as a world-leading nation in the life sciences.
- Together with the University of Gothenburg, AstraZeneca andRegion Västra Götaland, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is investing at least SEK 620 million over a ten-year period. Similar centers are being built up at the same time in Lund, Umeå and Linköping.
- The recruitment of internationally promising researchers in molecular medicine is one of WCMTM’s primary missions and the majority of researchers will be employed at WCMTM in the next few years with their home base at the various institutes of Sahlgrenska Academy and the Faculty of Science to build up their research teams.
- Significant effort is being devoted to linking the WCMTM researchers to hospital environments and AstraZeneca to create strong translational environments.
- WCMTM also supports specific translational projects and infrastructures that bridge research and clinical practice to secure the breadth in WCMTM.
TEXT: ELIN LINDSTRÖM CLAESSEN
PHOTO: JOHAN WINGBORG