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Tandem researchers Smith & Meissner

Smith & Meissner are two researchers who have been hand-picked to find molecular clues to healing processes in the heart and blood vessels. A cardiologist and a molecular biologist who complement one another and work together to move research forward, Gustav Smith and Anja Meissner are one of the “tandem pairs” in a major initiative at the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine (WCMM).
Gustav Smith and Anja Meissner. Photo: Kennet Ruona

Gustav Smith is a cardiologist whose research focuses on heart failure, which is the final stage of all heart disease. At that point, the heart no longer manages to pump out enough blood to supply the body. The dream is to find treatment methods that stimulate the healing of the heart in these patients. In his experimental laboratory, he isolates cells from the heart to study the mechanisms underpinning the development of heart failure.

“However, in the experimental laboratory, I, the medic, am not the one with the crucial knowledge; it is Anja who is the star. She has been appointed by the centre for her knowledge of molecular biology, and I was chosen to be her clinical partner. It is unusual to be paired up with another researcher, research is generally a solitary activity and even if you have close collaborations with other researchers, they are rarely selected by your employer. This is very exciting, as we have such different backgrounds and expertise”, explains Gustav Smith.

Cardiovascular disease is still the largest health problem in the world and the most common cause of death in most industrialised countries. The basic principle of WCMM is to develop research through tandem projects combining expertise from basic research and clinical work. Anja Meissner is mainly interested in the blood vessels that lead from the heart to the various vital organs:

 “When you think about cardiovascular disease, the heart is usually the main player but, in my research, I am more interested in the blood vessels supplying the lungs and the brain for example. I want to understand the events behind the disease processes in these blood vessels in order to find a way to prevent them from occurring”, says Anja Meissner.

Among other findings, she has shown that, in the case of myocardial infarction, the blood vessels are affected long after the person appears to have recovered from the cardiac event. The blood vessels in the brain change, affecting the absorption of nutrients and leading the memory to deteriorate.

Six months ago, Meissner left Bonn for Lund and her position as an associate senior lecturer. The decision to move to Sweden was not a difficult one:

“I am used to moving to different countries and cities and, in this case, it was especially easy thanks to all the support I got from the University. For me, this is a fantastic opportunity to come to Lund and be a part of a translational research environment. My research partner Gustav has already equipped me with research material from all the cardiac patients; his access to clinical material such as tissue samples and his opportunities to implement the research clinically are amazing assets.”

On previous occasions when she has worked together with clinicians, there has been very little shared research time. Now the relationship is different – there is time set aside for deep discussions and joint studies, which makes the conditions and the collaboration completely different. And the research team has already found a couple of clues. A couple of molecules have been involved in the genetic studies that Gustav Smith is conducting; to convert these genetic clues into a better understanding of the disease requires methodical molecular biology work in which Anja Meissner’s expertise could prove crucial.

Anja Meissner has not yet been able to see much of Lund, besides wandering around to view apartments before moving, so she knows little of the city.

“There has been a lot of work now in the beginning, but when it hopefully all settles down a bit, my partner and I want to explore Lund. We both love cycling and although cycling out along the Rhine in Bonn is fantastic, it is a city built for cars. Lund seems to be the opposite.”

The research team has only just started its collaboration, but both partners are very excited about what the next few years of collaborative research could bring.

“It is a fantastic opportunity for a researcher to be part of the contact network and all the expertise available within the Centre and I am completely certain that it can lead to many exciting research discoveries”, concludes Gustav Smith.

FACTS

  • The Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine (WCMM) was inaugurated in October 2017 and focuses on regenerative medicine – i.e. repairing or replacing damaged tissue and its function.
  • The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University and Region Skåne will contribute a total of SEK 535 million over ten years.
  • The Centre is part of a national plan to put Sweden back in a world-leading position within medical research.

WCMM’s strategy is unique in that it employs a pre-clinical and a clinical researcher within various subject areas with the strategy of reinforcing translational research.

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