It was the jackpot, to say the least, for Swedish research at the Descartes Prize ceremony, the EU’s most prestigious science awards.

Professors Edvard Smith and Lennart Hammarström, both from Karolinska Institutet, belong to the research consortium that won this year’s Descartes Prize in the Life Sciences category. A research group led by Professor Jan-Åke Gustafsson at Novum was awarded second prize in the same category.

The Descartes Prize, named after the philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, is the EU’s most prestigious science prize, and was inaugurated to recognise successful collaboration between research groups in Europe. The research that has now been awarded this year’s prize is coordinated by Professor Smith in two EU-financed projects.

Professor Smith, whose specialist field is molecular genetics, works at the Clinical Research Centre at Karolinska Institutet in Huddinge. Professor Hammarström works at the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Huddinge, where he is head of clinical immunology. The prize of 200,000 euro is to be shared amongst the seven research groups involved in the winning project. The other prize-winners come from France, Italy and England.

European immune deficiency research can be considered best in the world. Researchers here have managed to identify many genes that cause diseases, and have developed new forms of therapy.

“It feels wonderful that this research field has been recognised in this way,” says Professor Smith. “Congenital immune deficiency lies behind almost 130 diseases. You usually call such diseases rare, but taken together these rare congenital diseases actually affect many millions of people. One of the most important aspects of our research is that our results can be applied to other medical fields.”

The research group at Karolinska Institutet led by Professor Smith has been involved in an EU-financed project called “The European Initiative for Primary Immunodeficiencies” (EURO-PID). During the past five-year period, some two dozen new disease genes have been identified by the project. Professor Alain Fischer from Paris was the initiator of the project during the 4th Framework Programme in the 1990s. Professor Smith has been coordinator for the EURO-PID project in the 5th Framework Programme, and will continue in the 6th as the coordinator of a project directed at basic research and at harmonising the management of these patients in Europe. His research group is also developing new gene transference techniques.

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The second prize in the Life Sciences category went to a group led by Professor Jan-Åke Gustafsson at Novum, Karolinska Institutet, researching into nuclear receptors. The group also includes Vincent Laudet (France), Barbara Anne Demeneix (France), Hilde Nebb (Norway), Sari Mäkelä (Finland) and Edison Tak-Bun Liu (Singapore).

Both Swedish-led research groups from Karolinska Institutet beat tough competition from research groups from around the world to win prizes for excellence of science and of international collaboration.

The research that received second prize is coordinated by Professor Gustafsson and is an extension of the collaboration that already exists in Cascade, a major Network of Excellence project in the EU that is also led by Professor Gustafsson. The research done in Cascade is directed at finding and analysing hormone-disrupting chemicals in food; this particular group, however, is concentrating on the study of nuclear receptors.

“We’re extremely delighted about this prestigious prize and see it as an acknowledgement of our research,” says Professor Gustafsson. “We’re also very pleased about the intensification of European collaboration that the EU framework programmes have stimulated in recent years. Cascade is a good example of the type of cross-border collaboration that we see as a model for future research. Our researchers are stronger united than isolated.”

The prize of 30,000 euro will be used, amongst other things, to pay for the group’s future integration efforts.

Contact details
Professor Edvard Smith, 073-980 77 07, tel. 08-585 836 51, 08-585 836 53.
Professor Lennart Hammarström, tel. 08-524 835 86.
Professor Jan-Ă…ke Gustafsson can be reached through Gitte Strindlund, Director of Public Relations at Novum on 076-867 50 55.

Sabina Bossi, Press Officer, tel. 08-524 838 95, e-post: sabina.bossi@ki.se

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