Rare disease provides broader knowledge
Olle Kämpe is professor of clinical endocrinology and is researching autoimmunity. By studying specific diseases such as Addison's disease and APS-1, he wants to increase a broader understanding of how and why the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. His research has resulted in new diagnostic methods, and may eventually lead to new treatments.
When Addison's disease or other autoimmune diseases in the parathyroid glands or ovaries are diagnosed today, methods developed by Olle Kämpe's research group are used worldwide.
"Sometimes our findings have clinical benefits, and that is a good thing," he says. "But the main objective of our research is to understand the underlying mechanisms of autoimmunity, both at the level of T cells as well as genetically. What do the T cells recognise and why? What have the antibodies selected? And in parallel with this: what is the function of genetics in the autoimmunity? Why is autoimmunity more common in certain families and what benefits can it provide with respect to defence against infections?"
In particular, Olle Kämpe is studying rare autoimmune illnesses such as Addison's disease and autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome, type 1 (APS-1), but his ambition is to contribute to a more general understanding of autoimmunity.
"Why do research on Addison's, you might wonder? Because it is an incredibly homogeneous group of patients, which is very useful for a researcher! We have built up the world's largest Addison register with a majority of Swedish Addison patients based on serum, DNA and clinical data."
An interesting path of research for the future is the field that was opened up by the group through the discovery of autoimmunity against the enzyme transglutaminase 4.
"It was an unexpected find, and very beautiful! We identified this autoimmunity in certain men with APS type 1, and then looked further into the mechanisms and related autoimmunities. The results have not been published yet."
Olle Kämpe, who was a professor at Uppsala from 1999 on, moved his research group to KI in spring 2014.
Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "Från Cell till Samhälle" 2014.