While many countries are cutting back on funding for life science research, Sweden is not one of them, as the Northern European country's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt this week confirmed that his government intends to invest $320 million in life sciences over the next four years.
The commitment includes $100 million for SciLifeLab, a two-year-old translational medicine and molecular bioscience collaboration between four universities in Stockholm and Uppsala that employs a variety of gene and protein array technologies; as well as an additional $220 million investment in drug discovery, clinical research, antibiotic resistance research, health in aging, and the use of patient registers.
The government funding will be complemented by other investments. In April, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation agreed to spend $33 million on technology laboratories in SciLifeLab while British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced plans to invest between $5 million and $10 million annually for the next five years in joint research projects within SciLifeLab.
According to Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, director of SciLifeLab, the increase in funding in coming years will mean that "one can complement with more platforms, one can run more projects, one can recruit more bright scientists."
Lindblad-Toh, who is also a professor in comparative genomics at Uppsala University as well as co-director of the Genome Sequencing and Analysis program at the Broad Institute, told BioArray News during a visit to SciLifeLab in Uppsala last week that "science has become more and more large-scale with the availability of new 'omics technologies," such as high-density microarrays and high-throughput sequencing. "To really stay current with those [tools], you need to have resources of scale," she said. "Sweden [has been] very good at hypothesis-driven research as it had a lot of bigger genome centers, but Sweden is a small country, and you need cooperation and access to state-of-the-art technologies, so it was quite natural to put together something like this," she said of SciLifeLab.
Looking forward to the investment, Lindblad-Toh said that SciLifeLab expects "more projects, more high-profile publications, more recruitment," and continuing to partner with industry. "By maintaining this presence in the region we will continue to cooperate with and grow larger companies as well as contribute more spin-off companies," she said.
Founded as the Science for Life Laboratory 2010, SciLifeLab is a joint venture of Stockholm University, the Karolinska Institutet, and the Royal Institute of Technology, and Uppsala University. The center combines platforms in genomics, comparative genetics, proteomics, functional biology, bioimaging, and functional genomics with research programs in biology, medicine, and environmental sciences. Among the array of applications offered through its sites in Stockholm and Uppsala are genome-wide SNP genotyping and copy number analysis and expression analysis using the Affymetrix platform, genome-wide and custom SNP genotyping, copy number, and methylation analysis on the Illumina platform. Also offered are various protein arrays manufactured using an Arrayjet inkjet microarrayer, as well as tissue arrays. SciLifeLab's array resources are complemented by high-throughput sequencing and mass spectromery platforms, among other tools.
Peter Nilsson, site director for the Human Protein Atlas and platform director for the Affinity Proteomics platform at SciLifeLab, welcomed the investment, and said that SciLifeLab has been "fulfilling its purpose" in Sweden. "I think this constellation has been enabling and fulfilling its purposes," Nilsson told BioArray News during a visit to SciLifeLab's facility in Stockholm last week. "It is not just these big words, high-throughput technology, it's really making sense."
Nilsson moved his lab from KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology, to the new SciLifeLab Stockholm site last year. From there he uses Luminex suspension bead arrays for antibody-based screening of potential protein biomarkers with differential concentration in body fluids of comparative and longitudinal studies across diseases. For antigen-based profiling, Nilsson's group relies on antigens created within the Human Protein Atlas for the generation of the monospecific polyclonal antibodies. The antigens are printed on microarrays and used to validate all antibodies produced. So far, more than 32,000 antibodies have been validated on the antigen microarrays, Nilsson said.
He cited his group's cooperation with the genomics platform within SciLifeLab as an example of how he has benefited from the new organization. "I spent 10 years heading a DNA array facility at KTH, and now we are are using our protein array facility to provide service in collaboration with genomics department," said Nilsson. "I think that connection wasn't as strong before." In addition, he said that Karolinska's participation in SciLifeLab has moved his efforts "much closer to clinical settings."