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Published: 2019-10-01 10:40 | Updated: 2019-10-19 13:20

Close to 135 million in KAW project funding

Four research projects at Karolinska Institutet receive funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW) in the project call of 2019. In all, researchers at KI are awarded close to SEK 135 million over a five-year period for studies into MS, mitochondrial disease, and vaccine against rheumatism.

This year, KAW allocates a total sum of SEK 640 million to 20 basic-research projects in medicine, natural sciences and technology – projects seen as offering potential for future scientific breakthroughs. The foundation has also made a special effort to identify excellent projects with women as main applicants.

“It is highly gratifying to see that 30 percent of the projects approved after undergoing the international review process this year are led by women. We hope this trend will continue. It is the stated aim of the Foundation that at least 40 percent of our projects will be led by women by 2022,” comments Peter Wallenberg Jr, Chairman of Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, in a press release.

These are the four funded projects at KI:

Vaccine against RA

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Rikard Holmdahl, private image.

Project: ”Changing the view on autoimmune disease based on positional cloning of the Ncf1 gene”

Main applicant: Rikard Holmdahl, Professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Co-applicants: Professors Elias Arnér and Roman Zubarev.

Funding: SEK 36 500 000 over a five-year period.

Short summary: In this project researchers are trying to understand how the lymphocytes, white blood cells that form an important part of the immune system, are regulated by so-called reactive oxygen species or oxidants. With this knowledge, the researchers hope to be able to develop and improve vaccines to prevent the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and in the long run also other autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases affect about five percent of the population and occur when the immune system attacks the body's own tissue.

Epigenetic mechanisms in MS

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Maja Jagodic, credit: Stefan Zimmerman.

Project: “Epigenomic states underlying aggressive inflammation and brain tissue loss in Multiple Sclerosis”

Main applicant: Maja Jagodic, Docent at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience

Co-applicants: Docent Gonçalo Castelo Branco and Professor Fredrik Pihl

Funding: SEK 28 000 000 over a five-year period

Short summary: This project aims to understand how so-called epigenetic mechanisms – environmentally-induced reversible changes in the gene expression – can contribute to the onset and development of multiple sclerosis (MS). Two characteristics of the epigenetic mechanisms that are particularly important for understanding disease development and finding new treatments are the fact that they are both stable and reversible. The researchers hope with this project to find the missing link between genetic factors and environmental impact, which is believed to be of huge significance in the onset of MS and similar chronic inflammatory diseases. This may open a door for the development of new treatments.

The role of oligodendrocytes in MS

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Gonçalo Castelo Branco, credit: Ulf Sirborn.

Project: “Insights on the role of oligodendroglia in the origin and progression of multiple sclerosis”

Main applicant: Gonçalo Castelo Branco, Docent at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics

Co-applicant: Professor Tomas Olsson

Funding: SEK 34 000 000 over a five-year period

Short summary: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is characterized by an auto-immune attack targeting myelin, an insulator layer present in oligodendrocytes leading to the motor symptoms associated with the disease. The current project is based on previous studies in which the researchers have shown that oligodendrocytes and their progenitor cells in MS can have a lot in common with immune cells– and that they also can interact with and change the behaviour of these immune cells. The researchers will now further investigate this interaction in order to develop better treatments for MS.

Mitochondrial disease

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Anna Wredenberg, credit: Ulf Sirborn.

Project: ”Mitochondrial Methyltransferases – from discovery to disease”

Main applicant: Anna Wredenberg, Senior Researcher at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics

Co-applicants: Professor Nils-Göran Larsson, Professor Anna Wedell, and Assistant Professor Joanna Rorbach 

Funding: SEK 36 000 000 over a five-year period

Short summary: The mitochondria are often called the cell's power plants because they supply the cell with vital energy, but the mitochondria are also important for other processes in the cell. Disturbed mitochondrial function can lead to several different diseases and is usually hereditary. The now funded project combines the expertise of four research groups at KI to detect, characterize and regulate mitochondrial so-called methyltransferases, which are enzymes with essential, yet largely overlooked functions for a number of mitochondrial processes.