Speech by Professor Kristian Pietras
Dear Colleagues, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great privilege and pleasure to be here today to receive the 2012 Anders Jahre prize for young medical scientists. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the selection committee for awarding me this honor. Naturally, this achievement would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of my co-workers, so I would like to share this prestigious prize with all present and past members of my laboratory. I would also like to share a significant part of the honor with my family; your love and understanding has enabled us to achieve this together. I have been fortunate throughout my career to enjoy support and generosity from my peers, and I am greatly indebted to all my former mentors. I would like to sincerely thank my thesis advisors Professors Arne Östman and Carl-Henrik Heldin at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Uppsala University, and my postdoctoral advisor Professor Douglas Hanahan, then at the University of California at San Francisco, for setting the gold standard in science that we all strive to achieve. In particular, I would also like to express my humble gratitude to Professor Ulf Eriksson at Karolinska Institutet, for his genuine kindness and generous support which has in no small way contributed to my development as an independent investigator. Finally, I would also like to acknowledge Professor Sven Påhlman at Lund University for his excellent foresight in recruiting me to Lund. Science is a true teamwork, so the importance of creating nurturing, internationally competitive and excellent research environments in which young scientists are allowed to prosper cannot be overstated and should serve as a guiding light for today’s decision makers and funding agencies.
Just like young scientists cannot achieve their goals without proper support structures, cancer cells need a supportive environment to develop into the clinically manifested and deadly disease that we all have been touched by in one way or another. As tumor cells multiply endlessly they interact with many different ostensibly normal cell types that are hijacked into providing crucial assistance to the growing cancer mass. Perhaps the best example of this is the crosstalk between the cancer and the blood vascular system. In order to grow bigger than a few millimeters, a tumor needs to trigger in-growth of blood vessels in order to supply the cancer cells with oxygen and nutrients that are used to continue their expansion and spread to other organs. Since our vascular system under normal circumstances is quiescent, an opportunity is raised to fight cancer growth by blocking the formation of new blood vessels. The first cancer drugs acting through this mechanism have now been in clinical use for almost a decade, providing at least temporary relief for patients of colon cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer and other malignant diseases. My fascination with the interplay between malignant cells and their environment continue, as we try to map out new support functions and signaling pathways that can be exploited as drug targets for the development of sorely needed medicines for cancer patients.
As I have already said, I am grateful and proud to have received this year’s Jahre prize. I am however equally happy about the attention that prizes like this brings to scientists and science in general. The Nordic countries host world-leading authorities within many research fields, but these scientists, or their discoveries, are not well known to the public. I share this podium today with the Ole Einar Björndalen of neuroscience and the Zlatan Ibrahimovic of diabetes research. To continue to attract young bright minds into science, it is important to present role models and success stories, the same way that the sports and media industry continuously do. It is up to us to create opportunities like today where ground-breaking science is put in the limelight. There are many exciting discoveries yet to be made and I am grateful to have a chance to continue our explorative studies in medicine; I hope it can serve as inspiration for at least someone to take up science.