Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede

Protein researcher gets this year's Gustaf Dalén medal

She has increased the knowledge of protein folding and misfolding, and how these contribute to diseases. She is also a role model and committed to gender equality. For this, Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede receives the Gustaf Dalén medal.

​“This feels great, and I am incredibly honored to get this attention from the Chalmers Alumni Association. Previous recipients of this medal are mostly older men, with successful business carriers; out of 51 medalists, only three are women. I hope the fact that I get this medal will motivate young women to study at Chalmers, and that it highlights academia as an exciting and extremely rewarding career path,” says Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, the recipient of the Gustaf Dalén medal 2019, and continues:

“Chalmers has shaped me, as I became an adult during my studies here. This was the best years of my life. I found “my thing” in research, and I made friends for life. I have also kept in touch with Chalmers even as I worked in the US for many years. I was head of US Friends of Chalmers for some time, and me and my husband arranged a spring meeting with party in New Orleans for the Chalmers Alumni Association’s US division.”

Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, who is a professor of chemical biology working at Chalmers’ Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, has received numerous awards over the past couple of years.

You're an established researcher. Is it still important for you to win awards?

“Yes. I doubt my ability all the time, and awards are a way to help boost the self-confidence,” she says.

Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede’s research focuses on proteins, that perform all the work in our bodies. The proteins have to fold correctly in order for them to fulfill their task. When they misfold, they malfunction – and this could result in diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Wittung-Stafshede has also taken an interest in metal ions, and the transport of such inside human cells. By building from basic knowledge concerning protein folding and metal dependent protein functions, it may be possible to understand the cause of diseases and lay the ground for future new treatments.

What makes research so rewarding?

“It’s a thrill to discover completely new things, finding connections that no one has seen before. And I want to help humanity by understanding how the body works, as well as what goes wrong when you get sick.”

You spend a lot of time working with gender equality issues, as Head of Chalmers gender equality initiative, Genie. Which of your tasks is most interesting?

“We have a lot of interesting things going on in the lab right now. We hope to close in on solutions to Parkinson’s and cancer in the coming years. Now with me focusing lots of attention on gender equality work, my students get more freedom to work independently,” Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede says.

“Gender equality is such an important task, and it is very rewarding to learn how to work on a larger scale. There are so many new challenges. To get action, someone has to take the driver seat, and I'm now experienced enough to dare do that. I hope Genie can initiate lasting change at Chalmers.”

In 25 years from now: What do you hope to see in your rearview mirror?

“I want to make a difference. When I look back, I want to feel pride in that I did all I could. I also hope that I have been a role model for younger people and given them courage to go far. It is important to remember that you do not have to be perfect. Nobody is! I have my shortcomings like everyone else.”

The Gustaf Dalén medal will be given to Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede on the Chalmers Alumni Association’s spring meeting in Gothenburg, on May 11.

Read the full motivation by the Alumni Association in Swedish here.

Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photo: Oscar Mattsson

Published: Thu 02 May 2019.