Therapeutic immune design, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
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.
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?
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.
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!