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Gunnar C Hansson - Student and professor side by side against a common enemy

They approach the disease from different places. Lauren Meiss has it in her body and is in Gothenburg to study for her life. Gunnar C. Hansson has it in his family and has relentlessly driven the research field forward for nearly 25 years. Now they are working together to defeat their common enemy.

Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg, Sweden, is far from Phoenix, Arizona. But Lauren Meiss has never let such things get in her way. At three months, she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease with a deadly outcome. Already as a teenager, she struggled to raise money for research on the disease. At university, Lauren Meiss earned top marks in biotechnology, and when ready for the next step, there was one place in the world she felt that she could really make a difference: Gunnar C. Hansson’s research team at Sahlgrenska Academy.

“I contacted Gunnar and he invited me over on the spot. Now I’m here and it feels super-exciting. There are loads of important questions to try and answer and we discover new things every day. It’s almost incredible that the field hasn’t been researched more,” says Lauren Meiss.

The thin membrane that keeps us from being eaten up from within
Gunnar C. Hansson has a son with cystic fibrosis – this is his driving force. But it is not actually the specific disease he has focused his research upon. Nevertheless, he is probably the world’s most knowledgeable person about mucins, the mucus that exists in our digestive tracts and lungs.

“The only thing that protects us from millions of aggressive bacteria in the intestines, and consequently from ‘eating ourselves up’, is a millimetre thin layer of mucus. How this mucus layer works and interacts with intestinal bacteria has largely been unknown to science. So right now, I’m travelling around like a kind of preacher, promoting our new insights to inspire others to begin research on mucus,” explains Gunnar C. Hansson.

Possible new avenues for treatment
Gothenburg researchers’ discoveries about the function of mucin open entirely new possibilities to treat inflammatory intestinal disorders, but are also relevant
to cystic fibrosis.

“One effect of cystic fibrosis is that the mucus in the intestines and lungs becomes thick and viscous. This leads to problems with nutrient uptake, difficulties in breathing and repeated pneumonias, which – in turn – is the reason that many fall victim to an all- too early death. We have already published interesting results concerning the large and small intestines. Now we are expanding our knowledge on mucins to include the respiratory tracts, which is what Lauren is working on,” explains Gunnar C. Hansson.

Grateful to medical development
“I use lungs from pigs to study how mucins are formed and move through the respiratory tracts. In the first stage, it’s about understanding the basic functions of the mucin, but also why the mucus gets stuck and how we can influence it so that it behaves normally. Of course, the goal is to be able to help the patients,” says Lauren Meiss.

After nearly a year and a half in Gothenburg, Lauren is now returning to the US to continue her medical studies. The pace of life is high. Where does she get the energy? “I have deep respect for every day I’m given. The fact that I am alive at all is thanks to medical development, and I guess I simply want to fill every day with as much as possible,” says Lauren Meiss.

Gunnar C Hansson

PhD at University of Gothenburg in 1981. Professor of Medical and Physiological Chemistry in 1998.

Selection of appointments and distinctions

  • Board Member of the Swedish Society for Biochemistry
  • Biophysics and Molecular Biology
  • Chairman of Swedish Mass Spectrometry Society
  • Board Member of Sahlgrenska Academy
  • Director of Lederhausen Centre for Cystic Fibrosis Research

Contact Information

Contact details for
Gunnar C Hansson

Page Manager: Pontus Sundén|Last update: 8/8/2018
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