New honorary doctors in medicine

7 October 2014

The Faculty of Medicine has selected three new honorary doctors. Professor Blake Wilson is one of the world’s leading developers of cochlea implants, and with her pioneering work Birgitta Johnsen developed speech therapy as an academic subject discipline in Sweden. Mats O. Karlsson, former Chair of the Uppsala County Council Executive Committee, has taken part in major initiatives in clinical research and knowledge development.

Professor Blake Wilson is one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of cochlear implant research. These implants replace the sense of hearing in deaf and gravely hearing-impaired people, and are one of the greatest medical advances of modern times. It was long thought to be impossible to restore a deaf person to a hearing world. Some 300,000 people have now been treated with the method. Last year, Wilson received the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award in the US, which often precedes the award of the Nobel Prize. Wilson developed the technology in the implants and devised a way of converting the acoustic signal into a much more effective electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve.

Blake Wilson collaborates closely with Uppsala University and the ear, nose and throat (ENT) department at Uppsala University Hospital. He was involved in the insertion of the first brain-stem implant in 1993. For 20 years, he has assisted in developing new techniques, including electric-acoustic stimulation, when patients use both acoustic and electrical information for their hearing.

Birgitta Johnsen is one of the pioneers of speech therapy. With a crucial role at Uppsala University, she developed speech therapy as an academic subject discipline in Sweden through her pioneering work. She also made practical use of knowledge in her clinical speech therapy practice, and both initiated and actively participated in setting up a course programme in speech therapy.

Johnsen, who belonged to the first group of speech therapy students in Sweden, took her degree at Karolinska Institute in 1966. At the time, there was no comprehensive body of knowledge about injuries and development deviations that can impair people’s capacity to express themselves vocally, in speech and language. Nor had knowledge of clinical treatment and preventive inputs been systematically compiled. Throughout her working life Johnsen has worked to collect Swedish and international research, and introduced new perspectives with a bearing on clinical work. She was one of the first people to focus on the neurological background of language and communication, and she introduced new models for analysing reading and writing difficulties, and also deviant language and speech development. In recent years, she has also brought research on mathematical difficulties into focus. In her clinical practice and in her role as senior consultant speech therapist, she has worked for close cooperation between universities and county councils.

Mats O. Karlsson, former Chair of the Uppsala County Council Executive Committee for many years, has taken part in major initiatives that have thereby actively promoted scope for clinical research at Uppsala University Hospital. He has also contributed to the development of knowledge through his involvement in medical history in recent years.

After graduating from the Royal Swedish College of Forestry, Karlsson joined Uppsala County Council in 1972. He worked until 1985 as an official in various sectors and then served as Chair of the Executive Committee until 2006. In this position, he became actively involved in University Hospital initiatives with a major bearing on clinical research. Three important decisions from this period were the proton-beam laboratory initiative, the inception of the Rudbeck Laboratory and the decision to move psychiatry to the Hospital’s core area. Since 2006, Karlsson has devoted himself to historical research, especially with medical history as a starting point. In his book about Uppsala County Council and its work over the past 150 years (En demokratisk samhällsbyggare under 150 år. Landstinget i Uppsala län, 2012), Karlsson summarises his extensive archive studies.