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He wants to increase the patient´s involvement

t was summer 2009 and Anders Rosengren had just returned to work after his holidays. Then, the response that he and his co-workers had been waiting for arrived. The prestigious journal Science was interested in publicising the results from work that Rosengren et al had been doing for a long time, but first they had to address a long list of comments and they only had two months in which to do so.

The research team had been working on this project for many years and for periods it was very hard work. “I remember especially one Christmas, on Boxing Day, when I decided I would give this one more go and if we didn’t get any results we should call it a day. We worked hard for a while longer and turned a corner and began getting good data”, says Anders Rosengren, continuing: “Everything worked, the tests functioned, both Erik Renström and I found the project exciting, and Leif Groop was also involved on the genetic side.”

What they had discovered was a new risk gene for diabetes, Adra2a, and the connection between stress and diabetes. Forty per cent of all type 2 diabetics carry this gene, which leads to heightened stress sensitivity. Further, in animal trials it was possible to show how to restore the reduced insulin secretion caused by Adra2a using the existing drug Yohimbine.

When the review came in, with comments from four reviewers, Anders Rosengren felt that a publication in Science was within reach. “This period is one of the highlights of my research career, it was an amazing adrenalin rush. I worked day and night for two months and focused entirely on this project. It was a great feeling when we finally submitted the article knowing we had done everything we could and that it was now up to the reviewers”, he explains.

A Thursday two months later at half past nine in the evening, an email arrived – the article had been accepted! “The first thing I did was call my parents and then I told my wife. After that I rang Erik Renström who was also very excited, and then I emailed all the co-authors”, Anders Rosengren explains. It was a moment he will never forget: “I knew it would open doors, and it has, more than I imagined.” The article in Science was very well received internationally and since then Anders Rosengren and his colleagues have carried on working on clinical studies on Adra2a, the results of which will be presented soon. And, even if he doesn’t want to predict the results, Anders Rosengren is optimistic.

Following the Science publication, Anders Rosengren has been awarded several grants in rapid succession, and he is grateful that the funding bodies have had the courage to invest in young researchers. Today, he runs his own group consisting of two post-docs, two PhD students, and one research nurse. He divides his time between doing research and working as a physician at the Endocrinology Clinic at Skåne University Hospital in Malmö. “I like the patient interaction, it adds a new dimension to my research”, he says, and explains that he wants to make the patients even more involved in the projects in the future.

Setting up his own research group has been exciting and Anders Rosengren praises his colleague Taman Mahdi who defended her thesis in January and who has now returned to Iraq: “We made a very good team and because she was better in the lab than I am, I was able to hand over certain assignments to her.”

In the autumn of 2012, Rosengren and Mahdi published results on SFRP4, a newly discovered protein  for type 2 diabetes that constitutes the link between inflammation and decreased insulin secretion. They discovered that persons who will develop diabetes in the future have an increased level of the specific protein in their blood, but the cause is still unknown. “It’s nice to know that Taman is continuing our research in Iraq”, says Anders Rosengren.

At the same time, running a lab is a huge responsibility. Anders Rosengren emphasises how important it is to always be available and to motivate his co-workers. And, he often reiterates the importance of giving something back to the patients. “I believe that we can do a lot to improve patient involvement. Many patients are interested and you can increase their knowledge by exposing them to these questions.”

However, it was not a foregone conclusion that Anders Rosengren would become a physician or a researcher. “I’ve always been interested in both arts and science, and for a long time I considered becoming an engineer. Finally, I chose to become a physician because it’s broader and involves contact with patients. It felt like a meaningful occupation.”

After an inspiring lecture by Patrik Rorsman (former professor at Lund University) on how to measure electrical currents in cells, Anders Rosengren contacted Rorsman and asked if he could come work for him. This resulted in Erik Renström, who worked in the Professor’s research group, becoming Rosengren’s supervisor. Anders Rosengren began doing research in parallel with his studies when he was in his 20s. He was also involved in student life and sang in choirs. “I like intense periods and being under pressure. It gives me energy.” He finished his degrees in close succession: medical degree in 2004, followed by a PhD in 2007 and he finished his internship in 2009.

These days, he spends most of his spare time with his wife and children and likes to read books, preferably biographies. He also loves the opera. “When I was 13 I listened to an opera with Pavarotti, and from then on I was hooked”, he says. Whenever he travels he likes to make time to go see an opera.

Anders Rosengren’s future goal is to create a platform, a bridge between clinical practice and research in order to get a more integrated view of diabetes. “The disease is interesting and complex because it contains everything from biological and genetic factors to lifestyle and motivation”, explains Anders Rosengren. In future projects he would like to study how these factors interact and how to better manage the disease. He hopes for more detailed findings and to be able to involve the patients using innovative methods. “Today, patients are quite passive, they leave a blood and tissue samples but never really find out what happens next”, he says. He is driven by a will to translate knowledge so that it helps patients. Not letting findings end with a publication, but bringing them into the clinic. ”A lot of it has to do with having the right mind-set and trying to bring basic research findings to the clinic.”

He talks about ‘butterfly behaviour’, whereby the researcher moves on to the next flower that seems more interesting before having explored the flower he or she is currently on. “Unfortunately, the public has too much respect for research, they believe everything is fantastically good. There is a lot of egotism and prestige involved as the goal is to get published in prestigious journals. If patients were more involved in what we do, it would force us to make sure more results are translated into clinical practice”, Anders Rosengren concludes.

Text: Sara Liedholm/Camilla Franks

Find out more:

Anders Rosengren

Anders Rosengren
Anders Rosengren

Lund University Diabetes Centre, CRC, SUS Malmö, Entrance 72, House 91:12. SE-205 02 Malmö. Telephone: +46 40 39 10 00