The discovery that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory condition opened the door to new, more effective management approaches. At the heart of this research, bridging the immune system and CVD, is physician-scientist, Professor Göran K. Hansson (Karolinska Institutet - Stockholm, Sweden).
What inspired you to specialise in CV research?
While at medical school, it seemed to me that there was almost an epidemic of heart attacks. We saw lots of people coming to the hospital with myocardial infarction and many of them, often relatively young patients, died. It was huge challenge because, apart from keeping the patients on bed rest and monitoring them for arrhythmias, there was no treatment for the underlying disease. I decided to become one of the wave of scientists recognising this problem who wanted to try to improve the situation. I was initially drawn to experimental research because I liked the opportunities it offered for problem solving. Once I had joined a research laboratory, I became seduced by science and I realised that this was something I was never going to leave.
What are your main career achievements to date?
The work that has probably had the greatest clinical impact is the research I conducted in the 1980s with Lena Jonasson on inflammation in human atherosclerosis.1,2 Our findings formed an important part of the puzzle and helped to improve understanding of the process. Twenty years of research later, I was able to review progress and to discuss some of the key challenges that still lay ahead in the pathogenesis of acute coronary syndromes.3
In addition to my research, I am incredibly proud and honoured to have been involved in the training of many brilliant scientists and clinical investigators.
What are you working on at the moment?
A key part of my research focuses on the interface between immunology and metabolism. It is fascinating to discover the ways in which the immune system shapes lipid metabolism and influences lipoprotein formation and cholesterol levels.
In addition, my co-workers and I continue to work on our long-term project of trying to identify the key components in low-density lipoprotein that trigger an immune response, with the goal of enabling the development of a vaccine against atherosclerosis. To say that this research has been challenging would be something of an understatement!
What advice would you give to young scientists?
Firstly, I would advise young researchers to focus on important issues that are solvable with contemporary technology. Trust your data if they are consistent, and don’t be confined by what you read in textbooks because understanding is constantly being revised and updated. If – when – you are certain you have discovered something new, expect your findings to be met with scepticism and don’t give up. Remember, science is more a marathon than a sprint.