This year’s Wallenberg Clinical Fellows aim to find new methods for treating cancer

Two physicians will be appointed Wallenberg Clinical Fellows; they are researching why cancer is more common in patients with systemic rheumatic diseases, and studying whether it is possible to develop new methods for treating pancreatic cancer. 

The purpose of the Wallenberg Clinical Fellows program is to encourage clinical research by Swedish physicians. Funding is for three years. The program is supported by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is responsible for the scientific evaluation. 

In 2020, the two physicians to receive funding are:


Marie Holmqvist: Associate professor at the Clinical Epidemiology Division, Department of Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Solna and resident physician in rheumatology, Karolinska University Hospital. 
Project: Cancer in systemic rheumatic disease – occurrence, genetics, prediction and consequences.

Compared to the general population, patients with systemic rheumatic disease have significantly increased mortality. Cancer is one of the most common causes of death and the most frequently occurring diseases in these patients, but there is limited knowledge about why this group develops cancer. 

Marie Holmqvist wants to investigate the genetic and clinic characteristics of cancer in patients with systemic rheumatic disease and the prognosis for the affected patients. Thanks to an international cooperation with several universities in the Nordic countries, her research group will track patients over time to see if they develop cancer. They will first undergo genotyping to determine their exact genetic characteristics, and modern epidemiological methods will be used to examine which types of cancer affect these patients and the role of individual genetics in this context.

Daniel Öhlund: MD at the Department of Radiation Sciences, Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine, Umeå University, and resident physician in oncology at University Hospital of Umeå.
Project: Targeting tumor-stromal interactions in pancreatic cancer

Cancer of the pancreas has a very poor prognosis. One reason for this is that the disease is resistant to all the currently available forms of treatment, another is that it is often discovered at a late stage and has been able to spread to other areas of the body.

Pancreatic tumors are characterized by clusters of cancer cells surrounded by connective tissue, often referred to as the stroma. This consists of different stroma cells, such as fibroblasts (a type of connective tissue producing cells), nerves and a microbiome – which consists of microorganisms – providing the cancer cells with important signals that regulate tumor growth and survival. The stroma also functions as a type of barrier that prevents drugs from reaching the tumor.

The project run by Daniel Öhlund aims to gain greater understanding of the functional role of the stroma, to find novel targets for pharmaceutical treatments and new biomarkers that may make it possible to discover the disease at an early stage.
Using analysis methods based on mass spectrometry and single cell sequencing, the researchers want to take a closer look at composition of the stroma. Their hope is that they can find and develop new treatment methods that target the interaction between the cancer cells and the surrounding stroma. This could eventually lead to the clinical introduction of entirely new methods for treating pancreatic cancer.

Photo: Margareta Bloom Sandebäck och Mattias Pettersson.