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UiO:Life Science – research, education and innovation for the future

At the University of Oslo we are investing in life sciences in order to gain new insight and to address societal challenges related to health and the environment. 

Young researcher in the laboratory.

This article was written when Svein Stølen was the chair of the board of UiO:Life Science and Ole Petter Ottersen was rector of UiO. From August 1 2017, Stølen is the rector of UiO.

Life sciences represent the largest priority area of the University of Oslo (UiO). Researchers in life sciences study the composition, structure and function of living organisms. In this way we gain new insight which, for example, provides better methods for diagnosing, preventing and treating diseases. We may also acquire knowledge which can be used for sustainable management of natural resources, for example fish populations.

“Life sciences increase our understanding of the nature of life, and of ageing and disease. This is important in itself, but life sciences have an even greater potential. They represent a platform for new industry in Norway and transition to a greener economy with new jobs, products and services for the benefit of society, particularly in the health sector,” says Ole Petter Ottersen, rector of the University.

“At UiO we are assuming a national responsibility to cultivate a leading international life sciences community in Oslo. We will continue to build on the outstanding research communities we already have and develop new ones,” he underlines.

Interdisciplinarity gives UiO an advantage

Life sciences represent an interdisciplinary science to which researchers from various disciplines contribute with their expertise.

“We develop new knowledge in the life sciences by combining the most cutting-edge areas of research in academic disciplines such as medicine and biology with new, advanced methods of analysis from disciplines such as mathematics, chemistry, pharmacology, physics and computer science. We also use social science and humanities disciplines to understand life sciences from an overall societal perspective,” says Professor Svein Stølen, who was appointed in the spring as chair of the board for life sciences as a priority area for UiO.

“By working across disciplines we can obtain new, groundbreaking answers to questions for which a single approach and one subject discipline alone brings us no closer to solutions.”

UiO will conduct research, education and innovation that have global visibility and relevance, and establish the Oslo region as a Nordic powerhouse for life sciences. Stølen believes that the interdisciplinarity at UiO will be a key enabler for UiO and the Oslo region to become a world leader in life sciences.

Contributing to value creation

The increased knowledge resulting from the investment in life sciences will contribute to value creation, in order to provide us as a nation with strengths other than the oil and gas industry.

“Bioeconomics is a concept that describes this new form of value creation. In this field, areas of knowledge cutting across disciplines and across the four industry sectors of agriculture, the marine industry, health and green industry will mutually reinforce each other. For example, we will make use of medical research on humans to improve fish health, and knowledge from biological systems to boost medical research,” explains Stølen.

He is of the opinion that Oslo, in addition to academic competence, has the population and national industry base that are required to succeed in this. UiO cooperates widely, with Oslo University Hospital HF (OUS), the municipality of Oslo and the business sector among others, both in terms of research work and the application of new knowledge. Approximately 70 per cent of the patents that are taken out through our innovation company Inven2 come from academic environments in the field of medicine.

The Algeta company which has developed a new drug for the treatment of prostate cancer has its origin in many years of research collaboration between chemists and cancer researchers at UiO and OUS. The company was sold to the German company Bayer for NOK 17.6 billion in 2014 and has created jobs in Norway and abroad. It has now recently become known that after two decades of work, researchers at UiO and OUS have discovered the cause of the autoimmune disorder coeliac disease. This scientific breakthrough will presumably be of great importance for the treatment of this illness. Through its investment in life sciences, UiO will make a concentrated effort to ensure that in the future there will be many such success stories for the benefit of patients as well as society.

A new building and new thinking on research, innovation and education

The life sciences building
The approach to the planned life sciences building.

To make provision for a greater degree of innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching, UiO will erect a life sciences building in Gaustadbekkdalen, Oslo. Statsbygg is the building contractor commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Research, and the building is planned for completion in 2023.

The life sciences building will be designed so that UiO’s researchers can increase their work across established academic disciplines and collaborate more closely with industry, health enterprises and the municipality. UiO’s researchers and students will thus further enhance their ability to tap into competence across disciplines and to see opportunities for innovation and value creation.

A new building alone will not transform UiO into a Nordic powerhouse in life sciences. Stølen points out that it is crucial for UiO to develop a complete ecosystem for research, education and innovation. This includes interacting with other players such as the public sector, industry and investors when these have relevant competence.

“It is a major task to prepare the nation for a future global, knowledge-based economy that is largely based on biology. It requires that we invest in competence. Education and growth of talent are therefore absolutely key to the priority area of life sciences.”

“UiO shall be a gathering place for creative researchers who are capable of linking academic disciplines in new ways to generate new knowledge and apply this for innovation and value creation. Today’s students are those who will revolutionize tomorrow’s society, create new, sustainable products, services and jobs, and contribute to value creation.”

By Norunn K. Torheim. Translation by Akasie.
Published May 19, 2016 6:08 PM - Last modified Aug. 8, 2017 4:42 PM