Female Scientists 2016
For the sixth straight year, the Hasselblad Foundation is allocating funding to female researchers in the natural sciences. This year, the SEK 1 million grants have been awarded to Merima Hasani from Chalmers University of Technology and Ulrika Islander from the University of Gothenburg.
Ulrika Islander works as a researcher at the Department of Rheumatology and Inflammation Research. The grant will enable her to spend a year abroad as a visiting researcher. Early next summer, she will bring her family to St Gallen in Switzerland, where she will further develop her collaboration with a research group. She will work with the group for one year.
‘I have dreamt for a long time about moving abroad and working as a visiting researcher, but for family reasons I’ve never had a chance to do it,’ says Islander, who is currently making preparations to make the research visit in Switzerland as productive as possible:
‘Right now I’m in the process of recruiting a postdoc to my lab here in Gothenburg so that my work at the University of Gothenburg will continue to run smoothly until I come back. Then of course there are a whole bunch of non-work-related details that need to be worked out before we move, like housing and my kids’ schooling in Switzerland.’
Her research focuses on identifying the mechanisms involved in the protective effect of oestrogen against rheumatoid arthritis. Last year, Islander’s group could show that oestrogen treatment reduces the ability of Th17 cells to move from lymph nodes to joints. Th17 cells are a cell type in the immune system that is involved in the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
‘At this point we have reason to believe that special stromal cells in lymph nodes are the cells that are affected by oestrogen in cases of rheumatoid arthritis and that these stromal cells control the ability of Th17 cells to move from lymph nodes to joints,’ says Islander.
The research lab where Islander will work as a visiting researcher is world leading within research on stromal cells and their interaction with cells in the immune system.
‘I can’t wait to work with the researchers in the group and be able to learn the methods used in the field. After the visit, I’ll be able to bring the knowledge to my lab and apply it on my research questions there.’
Chemical Tools for Extraction and Modification of Material from Forest Resources.
Merima Hasani is assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology. Her research focuses on the development of methods for chemical modification of cellulose in water.
‘What we are going to need in the future is bio-based materials and chemicals that can be produced from the relatively rapidly growing biomass and therefore contribute to reduced dependence on fossil resources. I’m thinking both of materials and chemicals that may replace the ones we currently need oil to produce and of materials and chemicals with entirely new properties and functions,’ she says.
‘Biorefinery research relies on multidisciplinary work. I will use the grant to strengthen and further develop some important international collaborations that will help me expand my research and strengthen its multidisciplinary character.’
We need to become better at utilising nature’s own structures and building blocks to satisfy our future need for materials and chemicals. Most of these building blocks are found in the support tissue of plants, in their cell walls, embedded in a complex and robust composite structure.
Although we already have effective processes for extracting some of these components (such as cellulose fibres from timber and other forest resources), we need more knowledge in order to extract all components of the cell wall and fully utilise the structural variation that exists in the cell walls of plants, and trees in particular.
‘The goal of my research is to develop chemical methods that will facilitate better and wider utilisation of building blocks – small molecules, polymers and nanostructures – from forest biomass. The main focus is on cellulose and the chemistry involved in its decoupling from the natural cell wall matrix, as well as further modification with an aim to achieve customised cellulose-based materials. Modification is the key to expanded use of cellulose and can be accomplished through chemical functionalisation or dissolution and re-aggregation of the cellulose structure in appropriate solvents. Of greatest interest are methods that will allow us to benefit from nature’s own design work in cellulose, for example its polymer and nanostructures, and that will be based on simple, environmentally friendly and upscalable reactions that will work in a future bio refinery concept.’
It is the sixth straight year that the Hasselblad Foundation makes funding available for the acquiring of further research qualifications for women researchers in the natural sciences, including technology and life science. Female researchers employed by Chalmers University of Technology or the University of Gothenburg are eligible to apply, and two applicants are granted SEK 1 million each.