Carolina Guibentif, Gothenburg University, and Alexandra Stubelius, Chalmers, are awarded the Hasselblad Foundation grant for female researchers 2021. Photo: Hasselblad Foundation
The Hasselblad Foundation annually awards two female researchers at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg, GU, a grant of 1 million SEK each. This year’s grant is awarded Alexandra Stubelius at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering at Chalmers and Carolina Guibentif, GU, whose research focus is on mammalian developmental hematopoiesis and leukemia, using single-cell profiling.
Alexandra Stubelius' research is about developing so-called nanomedicines to better treat diseases such as arthritis, atherosclerosis, and fatty liver, which all get worse from inflammation and which affect millions of people around the world.
“The immune system is complex and controls many important functions in the body. New nanomaterials allow us to affect many functions simultaneously in a smarter way than today's more blunt systems. The immune system is really smart but sometimes needs some extra help,” says Alexandra Stubelius.
An overactive immune system can attack the body’s own tissues, causing both allergies and chronic diseases. The most common anti-inflammatory drugs used today inhibit all immune functions – even the good defence mechanism and need to be used at high doses. These high doses result in side effects on other organs.
“In order to use the immune system optimally, more intelligent therapies, that can direct the drugs to the right area, at the right concentration, and at the right time, are needed,” says Alexandra Stubelius.
Three different strategies
Alexandra Stubelius explains that her team uses three different strategies to develop smarter nanomedicines.
First, they develop new materials, nanovesicles, that can carry existing anti-inflammatory drugs. The materials are designed to target the inflammation and deliver the drugs without damaging the surrounding tissue.
The second strategy is to create nanomaterials that can modulate the immune system. The nanomaterial acts as active substance that affects the immune response.
“With this method, we can fight inflammation in a new way. We aim to interfere with the communication signals of immune cells already in the blood stream. This inhibits more immune cells to be recruited to the affected tissue and prevents the inflammation from getting worse.”
The third strategy is based on the discovery that the immune system not only defends out bodies, but also heals damaged tissue. The researchers examine which components that affects the immune cells in the healing process. The identified components can then be used to continue develop smarter materials for more specific immune-regulating therapies.
“The grant I have been awarded by the Hasselblad Foundation will mainly go towards hiring a postdoc that can help me achieve my goal of smarter immunotherapies," says Alexandra Stubelius.
Text: Susanne Nilsson Lindh
Photo: Hasselblad Foundation