Published: 25-03-2015 13:56 | Updated: 25-03-2015 13:56

Anna Wedell appointed Wallenberg Clinical Scholar

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation invests up to SEK 600 million during a ten-year period in the program Wallenberg Clinical Scholars. Among the first four appointed researchers is Anna Wedell, Professor of Medical Genetics at Karolinska Institutet, and also affiliated to SciLifeLab.

Anna Wedell. Foto Stefan Zimmerman

The foundations objective is to boost Swedish clinical research by identifying the best clinical researchers and giving them ample opportunities to carry out their work and have their findings impact both science and healthcare.

Approximately one in two thousand infants is born with a metabolic disorder that often leads to brain damage. By means of high-tech genetic mapping, Professor Anna Wedell, has discovered the molecular foundations for several of these diseases. In one case, a change of diet improved the patient’s condition.

Newborns are always offered a PKU-test – a blood test that can reveal a host of rare diseases. Originally the test was used to diagnose the disease phenylketonuria, an inability in children to break down the amino acid phenylalanine. Removing phenylalanine from the diet leads to normal development.

Undertaking large-scale studies

Today, children are tested for 24 different congenital, but treatable diseases. Many metabolic disorders, however, lack effective counter-measures. As Wallenberg Clinical Scholar, Anna Wedell will continue to unravel the mysteries of these diseases. Undertaking large-scale studies of children’s genetics, she has already identified the foundations for several such inborn disorders. On one occasion her work has also resulted in successful therapy; for a girl with serious brain damage, the brain’s white matter began developing when she was treated with ketogenic diet, an extreme type of low-carbohydrate diet. This caused the girl’s condition to improve considerably.

Anna Wedell’s mapping of the molecular mechanisms in metabolic diseases may not only lead to therapies preventing brain damage, but will also improve the fundamental understanding of the biochemistry of the metabolism. This, in turn, may lead to insights into the driving forces behind other diseases, such as autism as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The program provides funding for 25 of Sweden's most prominent clinical researchers and will run for ten years. The estimated value of the initiative is SEK 600 million and each researcher obtains SEK 15 million for a period of five years, with possibility of extension for another five years.