Published: 23-03-2020 09:06 | Updated: 25-03-2020 19:59

Wallenberg Clinical Scholars for research on rheumatoid arthritis and fat cells change

Portrait of Anca Catrina and Mikael Rydén.
Anca Catrina and Mikael Rydén. Photo: Mikael Sjöberg, Wallenberg foundation

Two clinical researchers at KI have been appointed Wallenberg Clinical Scholars 2020. The individual funding of SEK 15 million from Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation provides Anca Catrina and Mikael Rydén with the opportunity to deepen their research and disseminate their results in healthcare.

Wallenberg Clinical Scholars each receive funding worth SEK 15 million over a five-year period, with the opportunity to extend this for an additional five years. 

“The Foundation primarily supports basic research, but we also want to use this program to boost patient-oriented Swedish clinical research. As of this round, 24 Clinical Scholars have received funding and the first part of the program has been completed. From now on, the call is open to those who received funding in the first few years to apply for a further five years of funding,” says Peter Wallenberg Jr, Chair of Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

She wants to find a cure for rheumatoid arthritis

Anca Catrina. Photo: Mikael Sjöberg, Wallenberg foundation

A number of effective pharmaceuticals have recently become available to treat rheumatoid arthritis, reducing joint inflammation and slowing the disease’s development. However, these new treatments do not help everyone and they do not cure the disease.

To better understand the molecular mechanisms that drive the disease, Anca Catrina, senior physician and professor at the Department of Medicine, Solna, is studying people who have joint pain and an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis. One important risk factor is smoking. Previous research has shown that smoking causes changes to proteins in the mucous membranes of the lungs, and that these damaged proteins irritate the immune system.

Anca Catrina’s research group will now search for other environmental factors that may trigger this pathogenic process. She will also investigate how the disease gradually spreads from the lungs’ mucous membranes – or other mucous membranes in the body – to the joints. The long-term objective is to be able to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage and to find treatments that can settle the immune system before it causes chronic and painful damage to the joints. 

More about Anca Catrina's research group 

Why do fat cells change when someone becomes overweight? 

Mikael Rydén. Photo: Mikael Sjöberg, Wallenberg foundation

Overweight and obesity are strongly linked to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Even a small weight gain leads to fat cells changing and losing the ability to retain fat, which contributes to fat being stored in various organs in the body, like the liver, muscles and blood vessels, leading to disturbances in these organs’ function.

Mikael Rydén, chief physician and professor at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge, is using unique long-term studies to follow people who have developed overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He regularly analyzes their fatty tissue, the aim being to find the molecular mechanisms that drive the development of these diseases.

The project has already led to the identification of molecular disorders in the fat cells, which may predict hardening of the arteries, among other things. He will now study these mechanisms in more detail, with the goals of refining treatments for people who are overweight and finding targets for pharmaceuticals that can prevent obesity’s secondary diseases.

More about Mikael Rydén's research group.

About the research funder

Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is investing a total of SEK 600 million in the Wallenberg Clinical Scholars program, which is now moving into its extension phase. This means that universities with medical faculties can, from 2020, nominate previous Clinical Scholars for continued funding. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is responsible for the scientific evaluation.