Published: 09-05-2014 09:40 | Updated: 02-12-2015 18:47

VR gives CIM researchers major grants

Three researchers at Center for Infectious Medicine (CIM) received significant grants from Swedish Research Council. In the next few years they will identify new goals of treating different forms of cancer and infectious diseases.

Linda Johansson

What is your project about?

- We've received money to study neutrophils and their role in serious Gram -positive bacterial infections. In particular, we'll focus on Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus, two very important human pathogens that can cause severe acute infections in humans.

- We want to look at what happens when the neutrophils meet the bacteria, as they are important cells in wiping out bacteria from infected areas. When you get an infection the neutrophils move to the site quickly, become activated and start eating and killing the bacteria. Upon activation they can release a variety of antibacterial proteins or molecules. This may also be a problem since these antibacterial proteins also cause tissue damage.

Linda Johansson. Photo: KI.

- The project will look at both the positive and negative sides of neutrophil activation. We want to know more about what bacterial factors that activates neutrophils, as well as the difference between different types of bacteria.

How common is the infection?

- Fortunately, the really severe tissue diseases are not very common. But when they occur, they're very dramatic with high mortality rates. The disease progression can be very rapid. In 2012 we had almost 600 cases of invasive Streptococcus pyogenes infections in Sweden.

What will happen next?

- The goal is to better understand what's happening at the site of infection. What goes on where we get invasion of bacteria, the interaction between bacteria and cells. We want to know what causes the tissue damage - can different bacteria cause different types of neutrophil activation which could lead to tissue damage?

Linda Johansson joined CIM and started research in this area in 2005 during her postdoc. VR is giving her 1.5 million SEK over five years, starting next year. Julia Uhlman, doctoral student at CIM, will primarily work with the project.

Linda Johansson's research group

Jenny Mjösberg

What is your project about?

- It's about innate lymphoid cells, ILCs that I've worked with for a while. Recently, we have discovered new groups of cell types within the ILC family that we didn't know existed in humans. Now, I'd like to find out what these cells do in inflammatory bowel diseases and cancer development in the intestines.Jenny Mjösberg. Photo: KI.

- Our first aim is to expand our understanding, on a basic level, of how these cells work, and how they relate to each other. We want to know if they are separate cell populations, or whether they can be transformed into each other and communicate with each other.

- We also want to know what role they have in intestinal diseases, and whether the cells are involved in inflammation. Because inflammation is so tightly linked to cancer development, it is probable that these cells could be involved in inflammation-related cancer disease.

How common is bowel disease that you're researching?

- Approximately 100,000 people suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases in Sweden. Some of these patients develop colon cancer, which at is one of the most common cancers in Sweden. Its also a very deadly form of cancer where the prognosis might be very poor. So, if you can find ways to treat early progression of cancer development  by identifying ways to suppress inflammation in the intestines  you may also succeed in preventing development of cancer in many patients.

Now what?

- Here we have a new cell population that appears to be involved in inflammation of the intestines, which in turn can lead to cancer. In many ways, the cells represent new targets for therapy. One can begin to think of these cells as a new target for treatment of inflammation that may cause cancer. At least, it looks very promising.

Jenny Mjösberg will receive 1.9 million per year for five years from the VR. Research is conducted at CIM in Huddinge, KI. She will now be recruiting a postdoc and a graduate student.

Jenny Mjösberg's research group

Antonio Barragan

What is your project about?

- The project aims to understand how dendritic cells and microbes interact, especially how so-called intracellular parasites, such as Toxoplasma, lures the immune system, and takes command of immune cells to their own advantage to spread in the body.Antonio Barragan. Photo: Bosse Johansson.

- We found that some parasites use white cells as Trojan horses to get into the brain or across the placenta. We are trying to understand how the parasites do this, i.e. which molecules they use, and what impact they have on the progression of the disease.

Now what?

- We will work even harder, of course! We've received very positive responses from both the research field and parts of the scientific community. It feels very inspiring that both the field and VR's experts agree that the project entails relevant research in the medical and health sciences, and worth investing in for the long run. Now, we have a responsibility to live up to it, a challenge I look forward to in the coming years. Lastly, you should of course also have fun on the way.

Antonio Barragan will receive 1.930.000 SEK each year for five years from VR. His research group consists of Jonas Fuks, Maria Hernandez, Sachie Kanatani, Einar Olafsson and Jessica Weidner. The group is part of CIM in Huddinge but have their lab in Solna.

Antonio Barragan's research group