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Investment in stem cells and nanoscience

Stem cells and nanoparticles are among the most high profile, forward-looking fields of research. Now the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is putting two such projects at Linköping University into the limelight via funding of SEK 62 million (ca EUR 7.1 million).

Professor Stefan Thor

A stem cell can develop into all types of neuron, but first it must know not only where in the brain it is located, and what time of the day it is. Researchers at Linköping University (LiU) and Karolinska Institutet (KI) now hope to take stem cell research one step closer to the ultimate goal: a cure for different neurological diseases.

”If we can link the knowledge of how they read their position with an insight into how they tell the time, we would facilitate major opportunities for stem cell therapy, ” says Stefan Thor, professor of developmental biology at LiU.

When the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW) allocates this year’s project funding for medical, scientific and technological research, SEK 47 million (ca EUR 5.4 million) will go to Stefan Thor and his co-applicants Johan Ericson and Jonas Muhr at KI. The money will fund five years of research into time-dependent changes in stem cells.

When Thor came to LiU following ten years at Harvard Medical School, he set up a laboratory to study fruit fly development from the embryonic stage, work that uncovered many hitherto unknown mechanisms which regulate how neurons are formed. Now he wants to move on to vertebrates, to complement the fruit fly studies with the zebra fish as a model system. The timing is perfect, as a zebra fish laboratory will be opening at the Faculty of Health Sciences at LiU later in the autumn.

“The advantage of the zebra fish is that it is transparent and the embryo grows outside the mother. With the aid of fluorescent proteins we can follow the stem cells and test the function of different genes,” says Thor.

In parallel with the studies at Linköping, the KI researchers are working with embryos from chickens and mice.

“When the project reaches its objective in five years, I hope we will have considerably better insight into how stem cells of vertebrates manufacture different types of neurons. We might even be able to solve the problem of stem cells dividing for too long, which creates a risk of cancer,” says Thor.

Contact: Stefan Thor, professor, +46 101 035 775

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Last updated: 2012-12-10