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Mats Sundin donates over SEK 2 million to medical research

Former national ice hockey captain and NHL professional Mats Sundin has made the initial contribution to a Swedish-Canadian research exchange on children’s health with a donation of SEK 2.2 million to a joint research programme set up by Karolinska Institutet and the University of Toronto.

The Mats Sundin Award, which the donation has financed, is an exchange programme for elite medical research in which junior postdocs from Karolinska Institutet and their colleagues from the University of Toronto are to research into regenerative medicine and neurological development. One area of inquiry is how heredity and early environment influence a child’s genes later on in life and what effects they have on health, learning and development. Karolinska Institutet, the University of Toronto and other possible partners are contributing to the initiative with the objective to build a research fund of one million Canadian dollars (almost SEK 6.6 million).

“I think it’s important that all children get a fair start in life, and it feels good to be able to help find ways to prevent disease and help people on the way,” says Mats Sundin. “It’s a fantastic way for me to give back to society. In my 20 years as a hockey professional I’ve been involved in a number of charity campaigns, but this is something completely new for me. I can also see the competitive people in science and there are many parallels to the elite sport I’ve been playing.”

Researchers now know that it is the interaction between genes and environment that determines whether or not a child will grow into a healthy adult. Research teams at Karolinska Institutet and the University of Toronto have been concentrating on finding the environmental factors in early childhood that influence health in adulthood, from breast feeding to stress and diet.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear to us how the fetal and infant environments affect how susceptible we are to developing social, mental or physical problems as adults,” says Dr Ola Hermanson, senior research fellow at the Department of Neuroscience and scientific coordinator of the project at Karolinska Institutet.

Karolinska Institutet and the University of Toronto have been in partnership since 1996 with joint research projects in a number of fields, including cancer and stem cell biology. The Mats Sundin Award research programme will be an elite scientific exchange programme that takes their academic collaboration to a deeper level. Participants will be recruited through a highly competitive selection process to pick two promising researchers every year to take part in the exchange, which will be led by some of the world’s foremost research leaders in these fields.

“It’s great that Mats has come and given us resources to strengthen our partnership with the University of Toronto just when we need them,” says Dr Hermanson. “Western medicine has extended our life expectancy by 25 or 30 years, and of course we want these years to be as good as possible.”

“We are focusing particularly closely on whether we can see signs in babies that indicate diseases later on in life, and we hope that we will soon be able to be much better at making such prognoses.”

“We are extremely proud that Mats Sundin has such a commitment to Karolinska Institutet and is prepared to make this contribution to research,” says KI president Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson. “We have an explicit ambition to support this type of research collaboration, and now we can develop what is already a fruitful partnership with the University of Toronto even more.”

About the donor

Mats Sundin is one of Sweden’s most successful ever ice hockey players. He spent 20 years at the top of the profession until he retired in 2009, after having spent 18 years in the NHL, including 13 seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs, which he also captained. Mats Sundin played 75 international matches for the Swedish national team, including three Olympics, seven world championships, the Canada Cup and the Junior World Championships. He won three world cup golds and as team captain led the national team to Olympic victory in Turin in 2006.

Mats Sundin scored more points than any other national team player between 1991 and 2006, and still has the best match average. And despite his retirement from the game a few years ago, Mats Sundin remains the highest point-scoring Swede in NHL history.

On 11 February 2012, the Toronto Maple Leafs paid tribute to Mats Sundin in the Air Canada Centre, Toronto. His jersey was raised to the ceiling, and number 13 in the Toronto Maple Leafs will remain his for all time.

Apart from his interest in helping Karolinska Institutet and the University of Toronto, Mats Sundin is also involved in the Min Stora Dag (My Big Day) Foundation for critically ill children and the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Ticket revenues from his box in the Toronto arena go directly to a variety of charities.