Published: 2021-03-10 14:27 | Updated: 2021-03-10 16:43

KI researchers awarded the Göran Gustafsson Prize in Medicine and Molecular Biology 2021

Portrait of Igor Adameyko and Goncalo Castelo-Branco
Igor Adameyko and Gonçalo Castelo-Branco have been awarded the Göran Gustafsson Prize 2021. Photo: Ulf Sirborn,Gustav Mårtensson

Igor Adameyko and Gonçalo Castelo-Branco have been awarded the Göran Gustafsson Prize 2021. The prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and consists of a research grant of SEK 5.1 million each, spread over three years, with a personal prize of SEK 250,000.

Igor Adameyko at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. Photo: Gustav Mårtensson

Research on cancer cells receives prize in molecular biology

Igor Adameyko at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology is awarded the Prize in Molecular Biology, "for groundbreaking studies of neuroassociated multipotent Schwanncell precursors and their role in organogenesis". He is studying how our nervous system is formed and how it controls development in other parts of the body. His research also provides important knowledge about why certain cells do not behave properly, but instead develop into cancer cells.

In our body there are lots of different cells with different tasks. Igor Adameyko's research group has been interested in how stem cells develop from the embryo until they give rise to the different cell types that build up different parts of our body. On their journey towards increased specialization, the cell makes different choices. At different times during their development, some cells choose the "wrong path". This can then result in cancer, such as the very severe form of cancer of the nervous system – neuroblastoma. Igor Adameyko's research can provide an increased understanding of both the normal development of cells and what happens when things go wrong.

To date, most studies have been conducted on mice, but the research team has also recently shown how the neuroassociated multipotent cells build up the adrenal glands in humans and how it may be associated with neuroblastoma in children. This gives new hope of finding better treatments for the disease.

"I didn't expect to receive this award, so I was very surprised. This will give us the opportunity to do more demanding things in the future and we can take greater risks," says Igor.

Portrait of Gonçalo Castelo-Branco in Biomedicum.
Gonçalo Castelo-Branco at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics Photo: Ulf Sirborn

Prize in medicine for research of brain cells

Gonçalo Castelo-Branco at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics is awarded the Prize in Medicine "for his innovative analysis of oligodendrocytes and the myelination of neurons in health and disease". He is a neurobiologist and has made groundbreaking discoveries about how the cells in the brain work. His discoveries have been made using new techniques that make it possible to analyze individual cells and determine their genetic activity.

He is researching a certain type of brain cell, oligodendrocytes, which produce the fatty substance myelin. Myelin acts as an isolation of the nerve wires and allows the signals in the central nervous system to travel more efficiently. When the white blood cells of the immune system attack the oligodendrocytes in the disease MS, they lose the ability to produce myelin and the nerve impulses are no longer properly directed.

So far, treatments developed for MS have focused on inhibiting the immune system. Gonçalo Castelo-Branco's research group now believes that it would instead be possible to develop treatments that stimulate the oligodendrocytes and their progenitor cells' ability to produce new myelin.

"Recently, we have also seen that oligodendrocytes on certain occasions have properties similar to immune cells and this can affect how immune cells act in the event of the disease. We are not sure how this impacts on MS as of now, but we want to investigate this in the future," says Gonçalo.