Published: 22-09-2014 09:44 | Updated: 22-09-2014 10:48

Celebrating a Nobel Prize Laureate – Professor Bengt Samuelsson

Karolinska Institutet’s former Vice-Chancellor, the Nobel Prize Laureate Bengt Samuelsson, has now reached the age of 80. At the end of August, researchers from around the world, met up to honour him as founder of the research field Lipid Mediators with a three-day symposium.

“I really look forward to meeting all the former colleagues and hearing about the exciting scientific programme,” said Bengt Samuelsson, Professor Emeritus of Medical and Physiological Chemistry at KI, a few minutes before the symposium began.

He was welcomed by the organiser, Professor Jesper Z. Haeggström of the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at KI, who describes Bengt Samuelsson as his scientific mentor and model, and was followed by KI’s Vice-Chancellor Anders Hamsten:

“Bengt Samuelsson has had an enormous influence on generations of researchers at our university, not least as Vice-Chancellor during a period of twelve years,” he said.

Bengt Samuelsson received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982 for his discoveries concerning prostaglandins and other associated biologically active substances, such as leukotrienes. This was a period that he outlined during his own lecture on the first day of the symposium.

Several of those attending were keen to define what exactly Bengt Samuelsson signified for this research field when KI News enquired.

“Everything! His research lies behind most things that have emerged in this field, which is one of the research fields that has led to most new medicines,” said Professor Sven-Erik Dahlén of KI. Medicines to treat inflammation, allergy, glaucoma and cardiovascular disease are some examples.

“Bengt Samuelsson is probably one of the world’s most important living researchers within the biological field,” pointed out Gerald Weissman, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, USA, and editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal.

One possible explanation for these successes may be his attitude as researcher.

“Bengt has always appreciated new data, especially that which doesn’t fit into the existing paradigm,” remarked Charles Serhan, Professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA.

Another explanation may lie in how the experiments were designed in the first place.

“He has carried out a large number of really impressive trials, from both a chemical and biological angle,” said Jan Sjövall, Professor Emeritus at KI.

In the view of Sven-Erik Dahlén, the research has always taken pride of place for Bengt Samuelsson. He recalled the time when Bengt Samuelsson was Dean of the Medical Faculty at KI and he himself was a PhD student and student representative:

“As the student rep I needed to arrange a meeting with Bengt and I fixed a time with the secretary some three weeks later. But then I explained that I wanted to report on some tests in the lab and just ten minutes later I was able to walk in!”

Bengt Samuelsson had high ambitions, both as Dean of the Medical Faculty and Vice Chancellor as he told the symposium.

“In these roles I concentrated on three things: KI should have the best professors, the best students and the best infrastructure,” he commented. It was under his leadership that the Scheele and Retzius laboratories were built as well as the Nobel Forum on Campus Solna.

In addition to research at KI, where Bengt Samuelsson is now concentrating on research in the leukotriene field, he is involved in research collaboration with China, has several board appointments and is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and equivalent bodies in other countries too.

Text: Lisa Reimegård

Photo credit: Gunnar Ask