Lund’s Fernström Prize for research on the interaction of proteins
The body contains a large number of proteins and each one of them may have many different functions, depending on how they interact with the surroundings. The state of the interaction at a certain state is called the proteome. In contrast to our genome – our genes – the proteome is dynamic; various factors affect how its composition changes and thus affects its function. Understanding how this works has great importance concerning diseases.
Johan Malmström is developing a technique that can be used to chart the function and role of the proteins. The technique is called mass spectrometry and can be likened to an extremely precise pair of scales that measures the levels and mass of a large number of proteins – simultaneously. This method provides researchers with a clearer picture of which proteins are involved carrying out biological functions and what happens in the course of different diseases. The technique is relevant for almost all fields of research involving the charting of proteins.
“In the past, the research has often focused on a single piece of the puzzle, one protein at a time. However, all the pieces are needed to complete the puzzle. Each cell can express around 10 000 proteins and how these proteins interact affects function, which in turn is dictated by how the proteome is organised”, says Johan Malmström.
The research extends over many different fields, something the awards committee drew attention to in its citation: “His research is of considerable importance for many fields of research and focuses on how our immune system recognises bacteria – with an aim to prevent life-threatening infections and antibiotic resistance.”
Focus on the problem of antibiotic resistance
Johan Malmström has primarily used the technique to study sepsis – when an infection becomes life threatening. One of the research avenues involves understanding more about why the immune system responds so strongly, and above all to chart antibodies.
“When sepsis develops it triggers many biochemical processes that affect the proteome. By investigating how the antibodies go about killing bacteria we hope in the future to be able to utilise these processes as treatment.”
The other avenue concerns using the techniques to measure trace substances, so-called markers, in the blood for sepsis as a way of examining whether it is possible to divide sepsis patients into sub-groups. Among other things he has examined in animal studies what happens when sepsis develops and observed that dramatic changes occur in the blood.
“We see that a large part of all the proteins we can measure change in different organs in a dramatic way. What happens when we treat sepsis based on these specific proteome signatures? Here we are hoping to find a better way with the help of technology to determine which treatments are effective – and when.”
Many of the questions that Johan Malmström is working on have been asked before, but the new technology means that there is now a greater chance of answering them. The aim of the research is to contribute to improving proteomics.
“As the methods can be used in so many different fields of research it is difficult to know exactly what I will be working on in the future. But of course I hope that our research will lead to us learning how to modulate the immune system for patients with sepsis.”
The winner of the Eric K. Fernström Nordic Prize worth SEK 1 000 000 will be announced on 23 September. Eric K. Fernström’s six local prizes and the Nordic Prize will be awarded at the popular science event Research Day on 6 November in Lund. Journalists who so wish will be given the opportunity to meet the prize winners on that day.
Johan Malmström, Professor of Advanced Proteomic Mass Spectrometry at the Division of Infection Medicine, Lund University
+46 46 2220830
johan [dot] malmstrom [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se