News from the Department of Pharmacy

Christel Bergström: "Uppsala's Life science hub is at the highest international level"

2023-09-05

With a virtual intestine and an amped up 3D printer, Christel Bergström is on her way to alter pharmacy as we know it. "We are on an incredibly inspiring journey that would not be possible anywhere but here in Uppsala," she states from her own laboratory in the heart of the Swedish life sciences.

Christel Bergström, Professor of Molecular Pharmacutics
Christel Bergström, Professor of Molecular Pharmacutics

How long is the leap from ancient wisdom to a digital intestine with the potential to revolutionize modern drug development? 2480 kilometers to be exact. At least, if we follow the crow’s flight from Pergamon – where Klaudios Galenos, who gave his name to the Galenic pharmacy, was born – to Uppsala Science Park – where, 1894 years later, Christel Bergström has developed a scientific innovation that provides an effective alternative to animal testing. Including a detour to Bergström's childhood Småland, we’ll have to put some 180 kilometers extra on the car.

“Growing up in the entrepreneurial region of southwestern Småland, an academic career is seldom top of mind. Personally, I was determined to become a musician, rarely seen without my saxophone. However, sometimes life takes different turns than intended. In my case, it took me to Uppsala and the Master of Science Programme in Pharmacy. There, the pharmaceutical industry became my set goal. At least until the day I discovered galenics,” says Christel Bergström, Professor of Molecular Pharmacutics at Uppsala University.

Her newfound interest swept her 7440 kilometers to the west. To the American prairie and the University of Kansas. Here, in the city of Lawrence, the Swedish degree worker managed to make quite an impression. That her assigned project showed scientifically difficult to navigate and results were scarce did not stop word of the ambitious and persistent student to reach across the Atlantic. Once back on the Uppsala flatlands, Christel was recruited to a doctoral position in Per Artursson's research environment.

In the Bergström Lab at BMC
In the Bergström Lab at BMC

“Being a PhD student in Per's corridor meant a lot of both responsibilities and freedom. When you work with a researcher of his level, the scientific questions are complex and each member is expected to take initiatives of their own. In parallel, you gain access to advanced infrastructures and a network populated by the foremost in your field. As a junior researcher, it was an extremely educational and valuable experience,” states Christel Bergström.

Today, twenty years after her dissertation, Christel leads her own research group with 25 employees from fourteen countries. In parallel, she runs SweDeliver, a research and competence center with a focus on drug delivery and the entire world as a recruitment base. The aim is set: Within the foreseeable future, the center will shine along the frontline of science. Several external evaluations confirm that the horizon is indeed within reach.

“To me, the strengths of both SweDeliver – where we collaborate with sixteen industrial partners – and my own team, is that we all share and strive for a common goal. If we are to recruit top talent, we can't just look within Uppsala, but without a distinct foundation of values, the synergy effect in the meeting between cultures is easily lost. I am convinced that many Swedish universities, not least Uppsala, have a lot to gain from joint processes to welcome new employees, instead of relying on the individual group as is the case today.”

The inauguration lectures 2021
At the 2021 inauguration lectures

Christel herself entered yet another foreign culture as she, in 2010, moved with her family the 15 610 kilometers to Australia and Monash University. As an already established researcher, she was granted a senior position, and upon return to the Biomedical Center two years later, she brought both new ideas and far-reaching international contact networks with her. And, perhaps most importantly, a deeper understanding of the values of the almost unique conditions Uppsala Science Park offers the life sciences.

“If you are going to conduct pharmaceutical research in Sweden, Uppsala University is definitely the place to go. Within a few minutes' walk from BMC you’ll find both Ångström and Rudbeck laboratories, the Swedish Medical Products Agency, the Uppsala University Hospital and UU Innovation. We are interacting in an environment at the highest international level, but have also remains a somewhat unknown gem to the outside world. Properly packaged, it is an offer hard to beat in the global competition for excellence and attractive projects.”

Perhaps the Bergström Lab itself provides the best proof of her hometown's scientific potential. Next door, her team is developing one of Sweden's most exciting innovations: A 3D printer, barely larger than a coffee maker, that already within a few years is expected to produce individually adapted drugs in patients' homes. In collaboration with, among others, Maria Strömme, Professor of Nanotechnology, Gunnar Liminga and Gustaf Ljungman, Senior Physicians in pediatric neurology and oncology respectively, and Mattias Paulsson, Deputy Chief Pharmacist, the group is currently adjusting the technology to adapt drugs for seriously ill children.

With 3D printer. Soon in a home near you.
With 3D printer. Soon in a home near you.

“We experience great synergy effects in the diametrically different projects we are working on. By, for example, applying our virtual intestinal environment, we can – completely without animal testing – calculate how different substance combinations and doses will affect release and absorption in the intestine of the 3D printed drugs we develop. Today, our focus is on children and adolescents, but we will also develop the 3D printer for elderly, multi-medication care recipients whose metabolism changes over time. We are on an incredibly inspiring journey that would not be possible anywhere but here in Uppsala. And raised in a family of entrepreneurs, few things make me as proud as when we can give something valuable in return to all those whose tax money make our research possible.”

FACTS CHRISTEL BERGSTRÖM

  • Title: Professor of Molecular Pharmacutics at Uppsala University's Faculty of Pharmacy.
  • Extracurricular activities: Center Leader at SweDeliver, Deputy Dean for Collaboration at the Disciplinary Domain for Medicine and Pharmacy.
  • On the bedside table: A collection of letters that I received from acquaintances around the world in the 90s and which I found again this summer. It's fascinating reading and fun to see what great friends I had already back then.
  • Likely to discuss: Sports and culture, preferably music. I play the piano, saxophone and some flute. I have always had a thing for football and follow my children's progress on the field and have a brother who coached IFK Värnamo in the Swedish top league last year.
  • I remember meeting: Jazz musician Putte Wickman. He gave a concert with the Gislaved big band where I played sax in my late teens, and he really was a true gentleman. I also get starstruck by great scientists like Bob Langer – who, by the way, is also a true gentleman.
  • A perfect Saturday: Kicks off with coffee and a newspaper in bed, followed by a soccer game with the kids and – a little later in the evening – a glass of bubbly at a good concert.
  • My Talk Show: Will focus on the importance of identifying opportunities as they occur and to dare step outside your comfort zone.

LEARN MORE

CONTACT

Christel Bergström, Professor
Faculty of Pharmacy, Uppsala University
Christel.Bergstrom@farmaci.uu.se

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text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

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Last modified: 2023-09-12