Eva Hellström- Lindberg is awarded Wallenberg Clinical Scholar 2018 for her research on MDS
Eva Hellström-Lindberg was recently made a Wallenberg Clinical Scholar 2018. She has received SEK 15 million for a five-year period to continue her research into myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a form of blood cancer.
Eva Hellström-Lindberg is chief physician and Professor at the Department of Medicine in Huddinge, where she leads a research group at the Centre for Hematology and Regenerative Medicine. She was already conducting research into MDS before it was established as a diagnosis in 1985, one which she helped bring about.
Could you explain a bit more about MDS?
– It is a type of blood cancer that often affects older people – around the age of 70. The disease is the result of changes in the stem cells in the bone marrow, which means they divide and grow in the wrong way and thus result in the impaired development of red and white blood cells and platelets and pose a high risk of developing into acute leukemia. It is a serious disease that has become more common and involves a lot of suffering for the patient, says Eva Hellström-Lindberg.
What stage are you at in your research?
– My research consists of two main strands. One of them involves looking at the biology behind MDS with ring sideroblasts (MDS-RS) which is very closely linked to a specific mutation in a splicing factor gene called SF3B1. We are trying to understand how this mutation interferes with the production of red blood cells and why certain patients produce only mutated stem cells while others retain healthy stem cells and have a better blood count. The second strand is focused on the potentially curative treatment for MDS: a stem cell transplant. We are developing entirely new molecular tools to be able to predict relapses at an early stage – relapses are unfortunately very common in the case of MDS, she explains. The next stage is when we will use these tools to develop new forms of treatment.
What will the research funding be spent on?
– We have produced a tool for identifying any signs of relapse at an early stage and thus making sure that the patient receives the right treatment at an early stage. This tool is now being tested in a Nordic study which is to last 3-4 years, and there is good reason to hope that this will extend the lives of MDS patients. The technology for this type of research is costly, and this award paves the way for us to continue developing new methods. The MDS-RS project also needs additional support in the form of researchers and funding so as to keep up with international competition. I will be enlarging the research group by bringing in a couple of postdocs, says Eva Hellström- Lindberg.