Grants 2023

Established by Bengt Sjöberg 2016

Grants 2023

In addition to the Sjöberg Prize, where 9/10 of the prize money is reserved for research purposes, the Sjöberg Foundation has in 2023 made decisions on grants totaling approximately SEK 98 (56) million.

Umeå University

Will collaborate on the early detection of dangerous cancers

Many tumors hiding inside the body are detected too late, so the prognosis for people with pancreatic or ovarian cancer, for example, is often poor. As part of a unique collaborative project, five Umeå researchers will develop blood tests that can be used to reveal hidden tumors early enough for them to be treatable.

The collaboration includes five researchers who study cancers with high mortality rates. Beatrice Melin, who is leading the project, is a professor and works with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain tumor. The other members are Bethany Van Guelpen, a colorectal cancer specialist, Annika Idah, an ovarian cancer specialist, Malin Sund, a pancreatic cancer specialist, and Elin Thysell, a prostate cancer specialist.

The researchers will use blood samples collected as part of the Västerbotten Project, that followed more than 140,000 men and women for up to 30 years. The new study, PREDICT, will include 50,274 of them. The researchers will analyze samples from participants who later developed one of these five types of cancer. The aim is to find traces of the developing tumor in the blood sample, such as the sudden appearance of specific proteins in the blood or the absence of others.

Because the researchers are studying the five different types of cancer at the same time, they can use the same control group, which saves resources. The Sjöberg Foundation is providing SEK 6 million in project funding.

How many more lives could be saved by screening for lung cancer?

Lung cancer is one of the cancers that causes most deaths. Researchers from Norra sjukvårdsregion and Region Västra Götaland will now receive SEK 6 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to investigate how screening of high-risk patients can be introduced in Sweden, so more cases can be discovered while they are still curable.

The most promising way of reducing deaths from lung cancer is finding methods that make it possible to discover tumors at an earlier stage. Two major international studies have shown that screening high risk patients with low-dose computed tomography reduces mortality by 20-30 percent. However, these studies were conducted in countries where relatively many people smoke and the majority of those who get lung cancer are men.

Sweden has comparatively few smokers and as many women as men develop lung cancer, so will screening with low-dose computed tomography have the same good results? This will be investigated by researchers in the NORTHWEST project, led by Mikael Johansson, senior consultant and associate professor at Umeå University.

The researchers will invite around 80,000 randomly selected people to participate, offering screening with low-dose computer tomography to those with an increased risk of lung cancer. Then they will study who chooses to undergo screening – what are their socioeconomic, ethnic and geographic backgrounds? The aim is that at least 2,000 people will fulfil the criteria and decide to participate. The scans will be analyzed using AI and supplemented by a blood sample from the participants. The researchers will analyze the levels of 21 different proteins in the blood, which may indicate an increased risk of lung cancer. The hope is that the blood test can narrow down the group of people who would need a computed tomography scan in a future screening program, making screening more cost-effective.

Will find early indicators for pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is often detected too late, after the disease has already spread and is no longer curable. Oskar Franklin, a researcher at Umeå University and physician at the University Hospital of Umeå, is now receiving SEK 3 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to try to find early signs of pancreatic cancer, so that the disease can be identified while it is still treatable.

Among other things, Franklin will use data collected by the Northern Sweden Health and Disease Study (NSHDS), in which researchers surveyed about 150,000 people and followed them for several decades. He will use the participants’ health data to explore whether it is possible to find risk markers – or patterns of risk markers – that can reveal incipient pancreatic tumors.

Physicians know that people with incipient pancreatic cancer often develop high blood sugar and diabetes. Franklin will therefore compare tissue samples from people with traditional diabetes and those with cancer-induced diabetes to see if there are any differences in the pancreas’ insulin-producing cells, as well as whether there are any biomarkers that reveal whether the high blood sugar is caused by cancer.

He will also work with researchers at the University of Colorado, USA, to analyze blood samples from the NSHDS. The goal of this part of the project is to see whether there are any anomalies in the blood of people who later developed pancreatic cancer, and whether they can be used in simpler screening for the disease.

Will test a new combination therapy for advanced prostate cancer

Several forms of life-prolonging treatments are now available when someone has a reoccurrence of prostate cancer or if the disease spreads. Martin Hellström will investigate whether survival in some patients can be increased by combining traditional hormone therapy with a radioactive drug that attacks the tumor.

Every year in Sweden, around 600 people are diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer or a relapse. When prostate cancer reaches this stage, it is no longer curable. Most patients then receive a hormone treatment, androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), which blocks the effect of testosterone in the body and prolongs survival rates.

Recently, ADT therapy has also been combined with newer drugs (apalutamide, enzalutamide or abiraterone acetate) that help to block the male sex hormone. However, the question is whether patients would gain more by combining ADT therapy with a new form of radioactive drug, 177 Lu-PSMA-I&T, instead of apalutamide, enzalutamide or abiraterone acetate?

177Lu-PSMA-I&T consists of a target-seeking protein that attaches to the surface of prostate cancer cells. Researchers have attached a radioactive substance, Lutetium-177, to this protein, so the cancer cells are locally irradiated. Martin Hellström, senior physician at the University Hospital of Umeå, is now receiving SEK 6 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to carry out a randomized and controlled study on 844 patients, to show which treatment works best.

Mid Sweden University

Can a wilderness experience be beneficial for young people who have had cancer?

Young people who have survived cancer generally have poorer mental health and live more sedentary lives than their peers. Miek Jong is investigating whether a wilderness experience, which includes hiking, kayaking and climbing, can boost their wellbeing and quality of life. The hope is that contact with nature will also motivate them to live more active lives.

Cancer treatments frequently have a persistent impact on the body. Children and adolescents who have had cancer often experience severe fatigue; poor mental health is common, as is still experiencing pain and being relatively sedentary.

In 2021, Miek Jong, associate Professor at Mid Sweden University in Sundsvall, Sweden, and professor at UiT the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, received funding from the Sjöberg Foundation for a pilot project that investigated the feasibility of providing young people who had had cancer with a wilderness experience, with one aim being to strengthen their connection to nature.

In the project, Jong compared the wilderness experience to a week-long holiday at a spa hotel. Its results have shown that many people wanted to participate in the wilderness program and that their connection with nature really did improve.The project also indicated that the wilderness participants gained increased quality of life, although this trend was not statistically significant.

Jong will now receive a new grant from the Sjöberg Foundation, totaling SEK 3.16 million, to conduct randomized control studies with more participants. This project’s design is similar to the pilot project, but the aim is now to measure the long-term effects of the wilderness experience, especially regarding mental health and quality of life, as well as whether it can make the young people more physically active.

Uppsala university

Can placenta cells reduce powerful immune responses to transplants?

When patients receive a stem cell transplant to cure blood cancer, sometimes the transplanted cells start attacking different organs in the patient’s body. In some cases, these attacks are difficult to stop with conventional drugs. Mats Remberger will now investigate whether special cells from placentas can calm the aggressive cells and protect the patient.

If chemotherapy or other treatments do not work against blood cancer, the patient needs a stem cell transplant and will receive healthy blood stem cells from a donor. This often cures the cancer, but in about half of all cases the transplanted cells start attacking various tissues in the body. This is called a “transplant versus host” reaction.

This reaction can usually be stopped with cortisone, but for some patients this does not help. Mats Remberger, professor at Uppsala University, is now receiving SEK 4 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to investigate whether, in these cases, the attack can be treated using special cells from placentas, decidua stromal cells.

In the placenta, one function of the decidua stromal cells is to protect the fetus from the mother's immune cells. Once they have been selectively cultivated and injected into the patient’s bloodstream, they will search for the area where the transplant versus host reaction is occurring and then release substances that calm the aggressive cells. Pilot studies have shown that this helps about 80 percent of people who receive the injection. The project is a collaboration between researchers from Skåne University Hospital in Lund, Oslo University Hospital, Copenhagen University Hospital and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada.

Will evaluate a targeted form of molecular radiotherapy

Marika Nestor, a professor at Uppsala University, has developed an antibody that carries a radioactive molecule and is designed to bind to cancer cells. She will now conduct a phase 1 study to investigate whether it can be used to eliminate advanced non-small cell lung cancer and advanced head and neck cancer.

Many cancer cells have a special protein on their surface, CD44v6, which Marika Nestor and her colleagues have begun utilizing to deliver radioactive isotopes. They have created an antibody that binds to CD44v6 and connected a radioactive molecule to it. When the antibody attaches to the cancer cells, the radioactivity causes damage and hopefully eradicates the cancer.

The researchers have treated cancerous tumors with the radioactive antibody in animal studies, with excellent results. They will now investigate whether it can be used to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer and advanced head and neck cancer in humans. The Sjöberg Foundation is now granting SEK 6 million for a phase 1 study, where the researchers will explore what dose of the radioactive antibody can be used without causing dangerous side effects. The researchers will also investigate to what extent the antibody accumulates in the tumors and what effect it has on the cancer’s progression.

Another important element in this project is testing whether the radioactive antibody can target other types of tumor cells. The hope is that the treatment will help with types of cancer that currently have high mortality rates.

Sophiahemmet University

Taking difficult decisions about life-prolonging treatment for prostate cancer

Men with incurable prostate cancer can live for many years thanks to new life-prolonging treatments, but these treatments often have severe side effects. Agneta Wennman-Larsen is investigating how patients and significant others make difficult decisions that weigh the benefits and side effects of treatment against quality of life.

Many life-prolonging treatments are now available for incurable prostate cancer, such as chemotherapy or drugs that inhibit male sex hormones. However, these treatments often have side effects, such as poor immune functioning, high blood pressure, fatigue and nausea, and the effect of the treatment diminishes over time.

Agneta Wennman-Larsen, professor at Sophiahemmet University, will conduct a series of studies to investigate how patients and their families have experienced these treatments. She will describe the development in the men’s general wellbeing, the burden of symptoms that arise as the disease progresses, how different treatments affect the men and what strategies they use to cope with the disease.

The project will utilize data and interviews from a previous project, PROCEED, funded by the Sjöberg Foundation, in which she followed 154 men with incurable prostate cancer for up to two years. She will also interview significant others of the men as well as men who, for various reasons, have not been offered or who have declined life-prolonging treatment. The aim is to understand how both the men and those close to them experience decisions about life-prolonging treatments. The Sjöberg Foundation is providing SEK 3 million to fund the project.

Karolinska Institutet

An app for people with oesophageal or gastric cancer

People with oesophageal or gastric cancer often encounter problems with treatment for these diseases. Pernilla Lagergren will investigate whether a new app, RECapp, can help patients during their recovery. It aims to support patients’ self-care, which may alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, and also reduce the need for healthcare provision.

More and more people are surviving oesophageal and gastric cancers. Major surgery is often the only chance of curing the diseases, and usually chemotherapy and radiotherapy are also needed. The treatment leaves many patients with chronic eating problems, reflux, fatigue, pain and mental health problems.

Pernilla Lagergren, a professor at Karolinska Institutet, previously received a grant from the Sjöberg Foundation to develop RECapp, an app which can help patients and provide support for dealing with problems. For example, the app can provide advice about alleviating reflux by sleeping with your head elevated, or how a daily walk counteracts depression and fatigue. The app can also alert patients to symptoms that mean they should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Pernilla Lagergren is now receiving an additional SEK 3 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to refine the app and then test it in a large randomised controlled trial, with 250 patients who have undergone surgery for oesophageal or gastric cancer. Of these, half will be randomly assigned to use the app as a supplement to standard care, while the other half will receive just the standard care. If the results show that the app helps patients reduce their symptoms and their need for care, it can start to be used to help patients throughout Sweden.

Gothenburg University

How can patients with severe brain tumors and their relatives be given better support?

Treatment for the most aggressive type of brain tumor, glioblastoma, is complex. Patients and their loved ones are transferred between healthcare providers and their need for emotional support often falls by the wayside. Anneli Ozanne will investigate how healthcare services can provide support that focuses more on individuals and helps counteract mental ill-health among those affected.

Just one in four of the people diagnosed with glioblastoma survives longer than two years. The disease is aggressive and patients require specialist care, with treatments that can slow the disease’s progression and reduce the symptoms caused by the tumor. A range of cognitive abilities often declines, with many people getting epilepsy and some also undergoing personality changes.

Because the disease causes a heavy burden, patients and their loved ones often find themselves suffering emotional turbulence. They may develop depression and anxiety, which can lead to more need for care and result in long periods of sick leave.

Anneli Ozanne, associate professor at the University of Gothenburg, will now receive SEK 3 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to investigate how healthcare services can provide better support for everyone involved. The project will be conducted in several stages and include patients, relatives, healthcare staff and researchers. Its aim is to develop structures for support that focus more on the person and are based on individual needs, as well as finding ways to help cooperation between various areas of healthcare, which many people would appreciate.

Can antibiotics cure cancer caused by a tick-borne bacterium?

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have discovered that a tick-borne bacterium, Neoehrlichia mikurensis, appears to cause some forms of malignant B-cell lymphoma. They will now map this form of blood cancer in more detail and investigate whether it can be cured by using antibiotics.

The Neoehrlichia mikurensis bacterium had previously only been found in rodents and ticks but, in 2010, a research group led by Christine Wennerås, a chief physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital and professor at the University of Gothenburg, discovered the bacterium in the blood of a man whose condition was difficult to diagnose. He was suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as a febrile illness with blood clotting.

When the researchers examined the bacterium, they discovered that it appears to cause a chronic infection in the blood vessels that activate the immune system’s B cells. The researchers now believe this infection may lead to a change in the B cells, which could explain why these patients develop cancer.

When other patients with malignant B-cell lymphomas were examined by the research group, they found Neoehrlichia mikurensis in blood from six of them. The patients were given antibiotics to eradicate the bacterium, which resulted in three people being able to stop their cancer treatment.

Christine Wennerås receives SEK 5.6 million from the Sjöberg Foundation for a detailed study of the relationship between Neoehrlichia mikurensis and various forms of B-cell lymphoma. The research group will also investigate the effectiveness of treating bacterial-induced B-cell lymphoma with antibiotics.

Developing a less invasive method for diagnosing brain tumors

There are around 100 subgroups of brain tumors and, to best treat the disease, physicians need to know which type of tumor they are dealing with. Helena Carén is developing methods that will characterize brain tumors using a simple sample of blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

Currently, to discover what kind of tumor is hiding in a patient’s brain, physicians often need to take a tissue sample, which risks damaging healthy nerve cells or causing a hemorrhage. Taking a sample is also impossible if the tumor is in a sensitive area.

To avoid the need for tissue samples, Helena Carén, professor at the University of Gothenburg, is developing a diagnostic method that utilizes the fact that circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) leaks from tumors. This ctDNA can be isolated from blood or cerebrospinal fluid. Using detailed analyses, it is then possible to determine what tumor the DNA comes from.

Helena Carén exploits the ways that methyl groups are attached to DNA molecules. They are inserted into the DNA to control which genes are active in a particular tissue, so the pattern of methyl groups on the ctDNA reflects the type of tumor it comes from.

Helena Carén is receiving SEK 3 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to develop this less invasive diagnostic method for brain tumors. The diagnosis of more traditional tissue samples will also improve through the knowledge she generates in the project.

Lund University

Can methods from the geosciences reveal incipient cancer?

Researchers in the geosciences use isotopes to study processes in the history of the Earth. Emma Hammarlund will now receive SEK 6 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to investigate whether isotope analyses like those used by geoscientists can be used to detect tumors.

When geoscientists map historical variations in the Earth’s climate, for example, they utilize isotopes. During periods of cooling, more of the oxygen isotope 16O is trapped in glaciers, so there is less 16O in the oceans. Therefore, when gastropods form shells during these periods, they contain less 16O and more 18O isotope, which allows geoscientists to track changes in the Earth’s temperature by measuring the relationship between 16O and 18O in glaciers and gastropod shells.

Emma Hammarlund, senior lecturer at Lund University, along with researchers from Chalmers University of Technology and Johns Hopkins University in the US, will now investigate whether they can use these sensitive methods from the geosciences to reveal incipient cancer. Just like glaciers, rapidly growing cancer cells absorb extra amounts of some isotopes, which disrupts the relationship between various isotopes in the body. The researchers will study this disruption by mapping which isotopes are stored in particular body tissues. They will analyze samples from healthy people and from people with breast, prostate or bladder cancer. Using machine learning, they will try to find isotope markers that can reveal early-stage cancer.

Can tests for cervical cancer also detect ovarian cancer?

Ingrid Hedenfalk, a professor at Lund University, has found a genetic change in cell samples from cervical screening that may indicate incipient ovarian cancer. She will now investigate how this mutation, in combination with other genetic damage, could be used to screen for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer spreads silently through the abdomen, so the disease is often detected once it has already reached an advanced stage and is difficult to treat. Important progress was made when Ingrid Hedenfalk realised that a mutation, TP53, found in cell samples from cervical cancer screening, could be used to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage.

Her discovery led researchers to start mapping cell samples using a method called “deep sequencing”, which provides very detailed knowledge of the genome. However, this meticulous method led to too many false alarms; it captured genetic changes that resembled the cancer mutation, but which were instead age-related and harmless.

Ingrid Hedenfalk is now receiving SEK 3 million from the Sjöberg Foundation to investigate whether another method will be more effective: shallow whole-genome sequencing (sWGS). In addition to capturing the TP53 mutations, it also reveals other DNA damage that is typical of cancer. She will map cell samples from both healthy women and those who have subsequently developed ovarian cancer and then use machine learning to see whether there is an identifiable pattern of genetic changes that can reveal the onset of ovarian cancer.