SEK 19 million grant for medical research

7 March 2018

Femke Heindryckx, Gustaf Christoffersson and Ziad Hijazi at Uppsala University are three of the eight researchers awarded grants through the Swedish Society for Medical Research (SSMF) Major Grant to younger researchers. The Uppsala researchers will share SEK 19 million.

Here is what the three researchers themselves have to say about the projects they are now being awarded grants for:

Femke Heindryckx, Department of Medical Cell Biology
“Every year, around 500,000 people worldwide are struck by hepatocellular carcinoma, one of the most common forms of cancer. Because the diagnosis is often made at a late stage, the death rate is high. Hepatocellular carcinoma virtually always arises in patients with underlying chronic liver disease where chronic inflammation and fibrosis form an environment that makes it easier for tumour development. In the inflamed and fibrotic area of the liver, there are so-called activated stellate cells. These cells regulate tumour growth by producing chemokines and substances that stimulate tumour growth and the spread of the tumour (metastasising). In this project, we try to identify factors that prevent activation of stellate cells with the final goal of being able to treat cirrhosis of the liver and the development of hepatocellular carcinoma.”

Gustaf Christoffersson, Department of Medical Cell Biology
“Around 50,000 people in Sweden live with type-1 diabetes. The disease is caused by the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas being destroyed by the immune system. What causes the immune system to attack the beta cells is still largely unclear. I have developed a method to be able to study close-up and in real time what is happening around the beta cells once the immune system has been activated. With advanced microscopes, these events can be seen in three-dimensional films; how immune cells interact with each other and with the beta cells. My goal is now to map the new mechanisms that I have discovered in my research on how the immune system can be controlled in type-1 diabetes. I want to know how aggressive immune cells can be turned to instead prevent disease onset and how nerve signals can be used to dampen the immune system.”

Ziad Hijazi, Department of Medical Sciences and Uppsala Clinical Research Center (UCR)
“Atrial fibrillation is a common cardiac arrhythmia that increases the risk of stroke and death. Treatment with blood thinners reduces these risks, but entails an elevated risk of bleeding. The individual risk for these complications is difficult to assess and the risk models used in routine healthcare today are not sensitive enough. My earlier research has shown that markers in the blood contribute key information regarding the risks of these complications. I will investigate if the use of new risk models that combine traditional clinical information with newer biochemical markers can improve the prognosis in patients with atrial fibrillation with regard to stroke, bleeding and death.
I will also evaluate if these new biomarker-based risk models can provide information that enables a better risk-benefit balance of blood thinning treatment in patients with atrial fibrillation in clinically complicated situations, such as acute cardiac infarction or severe renal impairment. Lastly, I will use new analysis methods to identify new biochemical markers for better understanding of the disease, better risk estimation, and by extension potentially new treatment measures.”

About SSMF

In total, the Swedish Society for Medical Research (SSMF) provides nearly SEK 80 million per year in funding for the projects of young Swedish researchers through research stipends and SSMF’s Major Grant. SSMF’s Major Grant, which covers both the researcher’s own salary and operating costs over four years, makes it possible for the chosen researchers to develop their own lines of research.