Countries: Sweden

Wenderson de Lima
Doctoral researcher in economics
Biography:

Stockholm Business School, Sweden

What NGOs can do. A story between Brazil and Sweden

Modern age brought with it innovations into every aspect of our lives. We use technology to connect, to learn, and of course, to help other people. The problem is, we usually ask the people who help, not the people who receive help, just what is needed. Wenderson De Lima, from the Stockholm business school, wants to understand the real needs of ordinary people. His aim is to create spaces in which the people who are being “helped,” can feel they are able to talk openly about their problems.

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Read the transcript of Wenderson de Lima's Video here

Wenderson: My name is Wenderson de Lima. I am a doctoral researcher at the business school in Stockholm.

Nerina: What is the topic of your dissertation?

Wenderson: The topic of my dissertation is humanitarian innovations and entrepreneurship in developing countries and I am accessing a little bit of the innovations that are being developed in Europe, Stockholm and I’m following them from development to implementation in developing countries.

Nerina: What are the most relevant questions you would like to address? 

Wenderson: There is a growth of technologies for helping people and we want to know how these technologies are perceived by those who develop them and those who receive them. I mean usually in the media what you hear is the interpretation of those who develop, the interpretation of the entrepreneurs but we want to hear as well the accounts coming from people who are at the receiving end of those technologies. That’s what my research is dealing with.

Nerina: What is peculiar about this sector?

Wenderson: In our markets, I mean in the societies where the markets is the main provider as consumer you have a vote and you have a voice. Every time you buy a product you have your vote and your voice heard when you purchase that product and many are dealing with that people receiving humanitarian innovations. You know, that we relation between consumer and a business it’s kind of fragmented by people who fund those products having in mind that many of the consumers cannot really out of their pockets pay for those products then you have a part actually paying for those products. And then this is a relationship that is more complicated than actually consumer and then business relation.

Nerina: What do you think we should change in this relationship?

Wenderson: I think it’s easier said than done but I think that we should… I mean when I say we I talk about the people who are coming from this part of the world we should question our taking for granted assumptions about what people need. You should try to create new links to try to understand the people you’re trying to help. I think that we should give a lot more attention to what’s going on in local context because there’s a big risk that we are losing that. We are losing the connection to what people on the ground in the local context are really trying to do with their lives.

Nerina: How can we do it?

Wenderson: I think first of all is that we could create spaces where people that are being “helped” they can feel they can openly talk about what they need. Because if you do not create that space where people can actually tell you what they want, what they need then you from the beginning you may create a product that is useless for them. I in the quality of an ex-slum dweller I understand how difficult it may feel to actually openly talk about your needs to people coming from outside and that is a big, big obstacle to helping people because people like me who live in these areas favelas usually tend to assume that no one will ever understand us so, therefore, you kind of do not share much of your reality to people who do not face the same problems. So that’s also a big issue.

Now I’m generalizing but a lot of people face the problem of not feeling safe to tell what they want, they do not feel not only hurt but they feel like I will tell what but who is going to care about that. That’s something I think is a consequence of a structural discrimination of the people living in these areas.

Nerina: What should we pay more attention to, in your opinion? 

Wenderson: I think what we should pay attention to is what exactly people in these areas, people living in areas where poverty is extreme what they say about their own solutions, what is that they want. Because I mean it’s not new. In the aid industry everybody knows that because these people they do not finance their own products, they tend to lose voice when NGOs design the help they give for people in that situation. I think the biggest challenge is actually getting access to the stories of the people who are to some extent receiving help in these countries, in developing countries. You have to be able to see your attempt to help other people as a learning process, not as a one size fits all, but also we should be careful to not exaggerate the ability of innovations to help people because there are a lot of political issues that have to be addressed as well. We should not forget why people are in need, we should not actually forget about the political aspects of each and every problem we are trying to address and they are all around them. You see that with the refugees now, all kinds of slum people, living in the slums as well. I mean how are we supposed to address these issues without touching upon political issues?

Nerina: How was your personal experience? What do you remember from your childhood? 

Wenderson: I think that what I saw during my time as a child  I don’t know if you remember what was going in the 80’s and 90’s in Brazil. The 80’s probably here in Europe you’ve seen in the news how Brazilian kids living in the streets were being shot by death squads and so on. We had those types of problems going on in Brazil and for me we had a single but big NGO around close to where I lived, close to the favela where I lived and I remember that one of the biggest things during that time was the notion of our cultural identity. It was very important to be exotic Brazilian at the time. I mean I am very thankful because the NGO was the reason why I was fed, I could find food for a while. The NGO does not exist anymore but I remember that my brothers and I went to their office many times because they had courses about Brazilian music, all of that afro Brazilian identity and it was the only agenda at the moment. I remember that I had both me and my brothers we had loads of fun playing Brazilian instruments, playing Brazilian music but at the end of the day we were there because of the food they served. It wasn’t really because of the so called the Brazilian award of the Afro-Brazilian identity. I understand that it may sound a little bit provocative for many people who think that they have the right to be authentic and so on but I always saw that as something secondary. You have your basic needs. When you live in poverty you pay attention to your basic needs more than your identity. You think of your identity when you… I mean in the state I am now I have food in the fridge so now I have the time and resources to think about my Afro-Brazilian identity.

Nerina: How did you get away from a slum in Brazil to a university in Sweden? 

Wenderson: That’s a big question and the first thing is that I received help as I say for a long time. It wasn’t something I received once and then I have built a huge empire of wealth around it and that’s what I am trying to. I usually tell people that I received help from the Catholic church specifically from a nun in the Catholic church close to where I lived. She was well educated and she helped me a lot with school and stuff and that help was absolutely crucial. I can tell you I devote a lot of what I have done so far to the people who helped me. Not only because they helped me but because they gave me a voice and that’s something not a lot of people did.

Nerina: What is the society you dream of? 

Wenderson: I think that equality should be on the table all the time when we talk about the way a society should look like and I still did not know where to look when I talk about the equality. I actually hope that there will be more and more collective thinking. Thank you.

Biography:

Stockholm Business School, Sweden

Robert Harris
Professor of Immunotherapy
Biography:

Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

Fighting brain tumors and Alzheimers

Our immune system is designed to respond to danger, to things coming in from the outside. But this is not the case with autoimmune diseases, in which the body turns on itself. Robert Harris is studying inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system. He learns how these diseases arise, how they are perpetuated, and what he can do to stop the process.

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Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Robert Harris's Video here

Robert: My name is Bob Harris. I am a professor of immunotherapy within neurological diseases at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

Nerina: What is your main research topic?

Robert: My main research topic is really to understand inflammatory diseases, we do this in a variety of settings. Primarily it’s been or historically it’s been within the field of autoimmunity where we focus on multiple sclerosis but in recent years we’ve also expanded into Alzheimer disease and brain tumors. So, inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system and what we’re interested in doing is learning how the diseases arise, how they’re perpetuated and what can we do to stop those processes. So they’re designing novel types of therapy to try and reduce the disease burden or hopefully to even stop it.

Nerina: What are actually neuroimmunological diseases?

Robert: Immunological diseases …autoimmune diseases at least are diseases in which the body attacks itself. Usually, your immune system is designed to respond to danger, to things that are coming from outside like infections, but sometimes for reasons we don’t understand why then the body turns on itself and starts to destroy its own tissues and these are called autoimmune diseases.

What happens in chronic inflammatory diseases is that there is disregulation of the regulation and that means that the immune system starts to do things which it shouldn’t do. So, if you have something that goes wrong in your body, then your body should respond and take away whatever it is that is not right. And then that can be either something that happens to your own cells when they become abnormal in the form of cancer or it could be that you get infected by something, a bacteria that comes into your body that shouldn’t be either. So your immune system is there to protect you from these things but sometimes it loses the instructions not to respond to itself and so it starts to attack itself. There are many reasons for this occurring, but really your immune system becomes diseducated and starts behaving in a bad way. And then, when it starts to do that, it starts to attack itself and it can lead to dysfunction in your body and depending on where the damage is done then you can either then develop diseases of your brain, your liver, your pancreas or your joints.

Nerina: What is your approach to try to find a balance again?

Robert: The first thing to try to readjust the balances is to actually prove that there is an imbalance. That’s one of the things that we can do by studying our animal models and by studying our patients’ samples to actually try and work out what’s happening in the blood of these individuals who actually are sick and how do they differ from people who are not sick and that would give us some clues about the immunological processes which are occurring and that would then give us clues about how we can stop them.

Nerina: What is your special approach in your lab or what is your idea? 

Robert: We have a number of approaches to try affect immune therapy. The major focus in the last five years has been on novel cell therapy. One of the immune cells which are involved in these chronic inflammatory conditions is the cell called a Macrophage and these are very numerous, they are all over your body in all your tissues and you have a number of them immature called monocytes circulating in your blood ready for action in case something happens. So when you get an infection in your skin, then there will be a recruitment of these monocytes to repair that part of the skin, that go from the blood into the tissue, become macrophages and do what they are supposed to do to kill the infection.

The resident cells which are all over the body have another role and we think that that’s mostly to keep things in check, the homeostatic functions, to keep the balance. So, there’s an interplay between these two cell types.

Then the macrophages themselves can have different properties. They can be nasty ones that chew up the bacteria, these are pro-inflammatory, and then there are others which calm things down and they have anti-inflammatory function and there should be a balance between these two. It’s like Yin and Yang, so when you activate one side, then you should have the other side that comes and regulates it. So, in chronic inflammatory conditions like multiple sclerosis then you have an overactivity of these pro-inflammatory cells that rip your brain tissues apart and that’s why you get the disease. So, our hypothesis is that you have an imbalance in these two populations. People who get these chronic inflammatory conditions are a little bit trigger happy with the pro-inflammatory side and maybe they are actually insufficient in down-regulatorty side, the anti-inflammatory side.

In settings of cancer, for example in brain tumors, then it’s the opposite. The tumor is actually able to survive because it’s anti-inflammatory. So in this case, then it’s the other side that’s actually a little bit too active and you are lacking the pro-inflammatory side. So, in each case, in each scenario then our hypotheses is that if you give back cells of the right sort, so in autoimmune conditions – anti-inflammatory, in cancer setting – pro-inflammatory cells. So, we can take blood from a patient, we can purify these monocytes, make them into macrophages, stimulate them to be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory and inject them right back into the same patient. Hopefully, at the site of where the disease is and that would then restore the balance locally and then it should halt the disease process.

Nerina: What is the peculiarity of your research?

Robert: One of the peculiarities of our research is that not many people work with these cells, these macrophages that we are working with. They are sort of considered to be the garbage collectors in the rest of the body, when you have some damage or you need to get rid of something, you get infections, some bacteria in the skin they get taken care of, the macrophages are the garbage collectors. They come up and get rid of all the dead tissue and make things right again. This is why you have macrophages in every organ in your body as well as theses circulating ones that they can come in high numbers if you really, really need them. They are like soldiers that are pulled onto the battlefield as extra resources, but many people don’t think then that these cells are so smart, but they are very numerous.

So we actually think that they are a little bit underestimated and very few people have been working with macrophages until the last five years and then it’s been sort of a renaissance in the field and the abilities of these cells to be multifunctional more than just the garbage collectors have actually become a little bit more apparent. So now there’s a lot of interest actually in what they do, but people are still not really interested in these being able to use them in immunotherapy the way that we are. It stands to be tested. People have actually started to use our protocol, one of the papers we published where we could show that we could induce anti-inflammatory cells in human cells which we published in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. It’s been the most downloaded paper in the last couple of years. So there’s a lot of interest and some people are actually starting to report using our protocol in their systems and in other disease models that we haven’t studied ourselves and it still works as well. So I think it’s coming and it’s not going to become so peculiar but they’re not so many people who think this is the first cell type to study and that’s why we are a little bit strange.

Nerina: Why do you think your approach is better than others?

Robert: It’s not a question whether it’s better, it’s a question of time and money and efficacy. One of the beauties of our theory is that the hypothesis that we will use patient’s own cells. So that there won’t be any problem with any rejection when we try to put these back into the same person. They are their own cells they are just not doing what they should do. So we’re giving them a little bit of help along the way to actually turn into the cells doing the things the right way they should do and put them back in and I think that’s a smart approach.

I think that what we have seen from other immune therapy approaches are that even if they are very successful and if we take an example of Rheumatoid Arthritis where one identified the molecule called TNF which is one of the sickening components which is very highly expressed in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients. So, they found ways to inhibit this molecule by using antibodies or soluble receptors which then can take it away

The immune system has been developed for hundreds of thousands years and suddenly you take a part of it away. It’s a bit like chopping your foot off you would be still able to walk, you would be able to hobble along, but you won’t be able to run and you won’t be able to climb stairs in a good way. It doesn’t really make sense to take something away. So I think that our approach is just giving back something that is really a little bit insufficient is a more natural way to actually reset the balance.

Nerina: What’s next? 

Robert: The next thing with this is really to go into patients. One of the challenges with trying to go from experimental systems to humans is me not being a medical doctor is that I’d then have to engage clinicians. So at the moment, I need to try and get funding to fund this and then try to find doctors that are willing to try and that’s really where I want to go. If I can make life better for just one patient then I will feel that I’ve done my job as a researcher.

Nerina: How much do we actually know about ourselves or about our body functions? 

Bob: We now know a lot about the body functions, we’ve known a tremendous amount about the immune system, but unfortunately one of the challenges that I see is that we have always been studying disease, we have studied people with allergy, we study people with autoimmune disease, we study people with cancer, but we don’t actually know too much about healthy people. We study aging even as well, but this is when things start to go wrong. But we actually have relatively little experience of healthy people, to actually know what’s going on in healthy people and how does their immune system actually look. Is it always non-activated or is it always on the go a little bit? How’s the regulation done there? So, I think that we need to actually study health in order to get a better handle on what goes wrong when you get a disease. But we know a lot and there are very many therapists that work very well and lots of new therapies being developed so the knowledge that we have it’s actually made tremendous progress.

Nerina: What do you look forward to now?

Robert: What do I look forward to? Summer holiday. No, what I look forward to in research is actually the research community as a global community and a lot of smarter people out there, lots of smarter people than I am and what’s nice is that we then share this knowledge and what I look forward is actually a major breakthrough. It’s been a long time since there has been a major breakthrough in medical research. Maybe the last really major significance was the small pox vaccination and that’s way back in the 60’s. So it’s about time that we actually came with something really revolutionary and we’ve had really good advances in sequencing the genome and so on, but most of the advances have been technological. But I think it would be nice if we actually could really nail one disease and eradicate it from the face of the earth.

Nerina: You got a prize as a great teacher. What is your role, how do you see yourself as a professor? 

Robert: You know that some people are good at doing research, some people are good at writing things, some people are good at talking. I seem to have a talent as a teacher. I realized this quite early on and I am heavily involved in all sorts of training and development of training. So it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s fun to be able to inspire other people to be better in what they are doing and that’s the point of a teacher. Whether it’s to students to inspire them in their quest for knowledge or whether I do a lot of leadership training, especially for our Ph.D. supervisors and to inspire them to actually be good in those roles.

Nerina: What is good research?

Robert: That’s a very interesting question. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so different people would tell it’s different things. I think good research should be based on sound ethical principles, good critical thinking and should be interesting. So that for me is what good research is all about. Research is all about searching again. That’s where the “re” comes in. So, often good research is nowadays is going over old research but using new methodologies in order to address these questions and that could be just as exciting as finding something completely new.

Nerina: And what is a good researcher?

Robert: Ah…good researcher I am not sure, you need to ask someone else. No, a good researcher should be somebody that is really interested in asking questions. “I need to know” – that’s what drives me. I am inquisitive and I like to be able to think, to be innovative in my thinking and a lot what we do doesn’t work. So a good researcher needs to actually have the stamina to face failure because 90% of the time we fail in what we are doing. We ask questions, we pose a hypothesis, we test them and they show not to be true, so we have to go back to drawing board and start again. So I think a good researcher is actually somebody that doesn’t give up, that actually sees the big picture and for me, it’s the patience. If you see people suffering or if you see people dying from the diseases or the diseases we are interested in studying, there are no cures for them and they are horrible diseases that really affect people. We could have picked up something that would be easier to fix but that’s not so interesting for me. I like the challenge of actually doing something that’s undoable at the moment and really to make efforts to do that and I think that’s also the essence of research, at least in a clinical setting, that want you to actually be trying to do something that’s going to be of use to the patients.

Nerina: Thank you very much, Bob.

Robert: Thank you.

#followup with Robert Harris

Robert Harris, Professor of Immunotherapy in Neurological Diseases at Karolinska Institutet sent us a short video with some interesting news. Have a watch.

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Biography:

Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

Hans Grönlund
Associate professor of immunology
Biography:

Therapeutic immune design, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

Allergies: therapeutic immune design

Allergy is a social disease, and we all know at least one person who has some kind of allergy. There is a medicine which can help us to reduce the symptoms, but what if we could cure it completely? Well, the good news is that thanks to researchers like Hans Grönlund, we already have the vaccine which can cure people of all kinds of allergies. But before it can be used, funding bodies and authorities have to realise that people need to be cured.

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Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Hans Grönlund's Video here

Hans: My name is Hans Grönlund; I work as a scientist at Karolinska Institutet at the department of Clinical Neuroscience.

Nerina: What is your main research topic?

Hans: My main research topic is allergy. I have been working with allergy for the last 35 years, lately mostly pet halogens; how to diagnose and how to treat patients with a pet allergy. My role is to be a group leader; I have about 10 people who are doing research in a translational way. My research group is called therapeutic immune design. So I design therapeutics, bio-molecular molecules that will play with the immune system in such a way that you can cure patients. Whether it’s cancer, or multiple sclerosis or allergy.

Nerina: Why are you so passionate about allergies? What is so special?

Hans: The thing with pet allergy is that it’s a very social disease. You cannot just say that it is something that is out there in the society. It will affect your neighbors, it will affect your classmates, it will affect your mother and father and also who you meet.

Nerina: And what are the biggest issues you wanted to address in your research?

Hans: I want to cure the population. And I actually want to cure them from not getting allergies at all.

Nerina: Is this possible?

Hans: Yes.

Nerina: And how?

Hans: Well, this is what we have learned lately, that by introduction very early on in life, in a smart way, you can skew the immune system in such a way that you will not encounter or react to the allergy later on in life.

Nerina: How do you see the future of allergy treatments?

Hans: For me, the ideal would be to treat children very early on so that they would not get allergies at all. That would be the main topic. Otherwise, we have devised together with other groups, a way to introduce allergens in small amounts to induce tolerance. So that is in a way a better way that has been today but we’re refining that at the moment.

Nerina: What is new in this treatment?

Hans: We are trying to make a treatment with 3 to 4 injections; these 3 to 4 injections should not be felt by the patient but they should still be very effective. There is very great hope as we have shown that this is in principle possible.

Nerina: What do we need actually?

Hans: We need resources, we need funding. We know how to do it, we have the vaccine on the shelf, but we will also need someone to finance this. This first trip is about 4 million euros, and then all the way to the patient we need perhaps double of that sum. In Sweden, it is a very small amount per person actually.

Nerina: What would you change tomorrow?

Hans: I would like the funding bodies and the authorities to realize that the need of the people is to be cured. This is both for the sake of jobs and health where we try to struggle, as this death value march is something prohibitive for scientists. If you go there, you’re very likely to be dried out and not come back to research again. So you should help those scientists who really want to contribute to society.

Good research needs resources and it needs know-how. It depends on what you want to do with research. If you want to just add information about how biological body functions, then that is fine and we should know more about that. If you want, on the other hand, to make life better for health care in society, then you need a set of steps and rules that will help you create jobs, to make a better living quality of life, and that is a funding possibility. So in my mind, you should try to focus also resources into this translational research. That would make my life completely different.

Nerina: What does good research need?

Hans: I do not necessarily think that we need more ideas. What we need is ideas that are put into reality, they should be tried. And that is the problem; a good researcher needs the help to bring his research to the patient – to be translational. This is the really big difficulty. How do you take a curative treatment all the way through good manufacturing practise, toxicology, IMPD, ethical permissions, medical product agency; that is a very expensive trip and as a scientist, you cannot do that without help.

Nerina: What motivates you?

Hans: What motivates me is to leave a better world after me, this is my great motivation. Also, I enjoy this life tremendously! I come to work every day full of energy, I have so many good collaborators, they are all there and we work together, it is such a fun way of living.

Nerina: Is there a day in your research life that you remember in a special way?

Hans: In a special way, well yes when I get funding to do a new project that really made it. You know the thing is it is so incremental. It is always a little step ahead, so these huge moments are sort of like a continuum, each day is a huge moment.

Nerina: Great.

Hans: It is!

Nerina: What is the most important lesson you have learned from your research, or from being a researcher?

Hans: To be a researcher, is to be able to communicate with people from all over the world. And you realise that people are basically the same. There is no difference between people.

Nerina: What kind of society do you dream of?

Hans: Honestly, I think that I dream of a society where money is not the driving force, but actually, love between people. You should be able to help other people, you should be able to be compassionate about other people, and see how they are as people. It is not a matter of how you are acting, but how you hug people, this is sort of a very passionate thing, people should enjoy each other.

Nerina:  Thank you very much, Hans.

Hans: Thank you!

#Follow-up with Hans Grönlund | Therapeutic immune design and new drugs

Hans is an Associate professor of immunology at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. His research is promising in the fields of allergies, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Watch the trailer:
Watch the video:
Biography:

Therapeutic immune design, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

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