Karolinska Institutet receives three new Wallenberg Academy Fellows
Three researchers at Karolinska Institutet have been appointed Wallenberg Academy Fellows 2017. The three researchers are Emanuela Santini, Carmen Gerlach and Joanna Rorbach, all in the field of medicine. In total this year, 24 young researchers receive this prestigious award and funding by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.
The purpose of the Wallenberg Academy Fellowship programme is to boost Sweden as a research nation by retaining the greatest talents in the country and by recruiting young international researchers to Swedish universities. Via an integral mentor program, they also have an opportunity to strengthen their scientific leadership and better utilize their research results.
The program has been established in partnership with the royal academies and 16 Swedish universities. The investment provides the best young researchers with long-term resources so that they can concentrate on their research.
“It is particularly pleasing that there are as many women as men among this year’s Academy Fellows. Those who are appointed to be Wallenberg Academy Fellows go through a thorough evaluation process. First, the university nominates candidates; they are then reviewed by evaluation panels in each subject, which are led by the five royal academies,” says Peter Wallenberg Jr, Chairman of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in a press release.
Repetitive behaviours in autism. Emanuela Santini is today working at Columbia University in New York, but as Wallenberg Academy Fellow she will move her research to Karolinska Institutet. With the long-term goal of finding a treatment that subdues repetitive behaviors shown by some people with autism spectrum diagnoses, Emanuela Santini will investigate how they arise at a molecular level. Some people with autism repeat specific sounds, words or sentences, others bite their nails or spin around – behaviors that have a negative effect on quality of life, both for the sufferer and their relatives.
Previous studies indicate that mutations in the eIF4E gene may be responsible; when Emanuela Santini overexpressed the equivalent gene in mice, they developed behaviors that were reminiscent of the repetitive symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Her hypothesis is therefore that the change in eIF4E affects the signals between the nerve cells in the striatum, an area of the brain that controls how we move, among other things.
More effective vaccines and therapies against cancer. Carmen Gerlach, moving her research from Harvard Medical School to Karolinska Institutet, studies how the body’s immune system protects us from infections and combats cancer cells. As Wallenberg Academy Fellow she will investigate specific groups of immune cells, CD8 T cells, to better understand how they work.
Current vaccines primarily activate cells that produce antibodies, and Carmen Gerlach will try to develop knowledge that can be used to design vaccines that also make the right types of CD8 T cells. The hope is, among other things, that such vaccines could provide protection from diseases for which current vaccines do no work.
Mitochondrial ribosomes to be mapped in atomic detail. Joanna Rorbach is a principl investigator at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics. As Wallenberg Academy Fellow she will investigate the large molecular machinery in the mitochondria, the cell’s power plant that puts together the proteins used in cellular respiration. These molecular protein factories are called mitochondrial ribosomes and are central to our survival. However, despite their importance there is limited knowledge of how the mitochondrial ribosomes are built together and function.
In her work, Joanna Rorbach will use the latest advancements in genetics and proteomics together with cryo-electron microscopy. Beyond describing the workings of the cell nucleus in atomic detail, in-depth knowledge of mitochondrial ribosomes may contribute to further understanding of the mechanisms behind aging, cancer and many inherited and neurodegenerative diseases.