Revolutionary molecular tools for precision medicine

18 October 2022

Ulf Landegren

Ulf Landegren, Professor of Molecular Biology, receives the 2022 Olof Rudbeck Award.

The 2022 Olof Rudbeck Award is awarded to Ulf Landegren, Professor of Molecular Biology at Uppsala University, for developing revolutionary molecular tools for precision medicine. Meet him and other researchers at the Olof Rudbeck Day with the theme “When the brain no longer complies – is it dementia?”

Ulf Landegren and his research group have developed several biotechnological methods used worldwide to study DNA, RNA, proteins and cells. One of the most prominent techniques is the Padlock method for analysing DNA sequences. It has wide applications today in research and clinical diagnostics.

“The Padlock method is used to investigate genetic variations, such as how two different people differ genetically,” explains Ulf. “It is a powerful research tool. For example, we can produce a high-resolution image of the genome and see which parts have increased and decreased in numbers.”

Advanced biotechnology methods

Another successful method used today by the majority of the world’s 50 largest pharmaceutical companies is proximity testing, PLA and PEA. They are highly sensitive tools for finding proteins in solution or under microscopy. Ulf Landegren has been a driving force behind several successful commercialisation projects, both in the US and Sweden, including the biotechnology company Olink Proteomics, which he founded in 2004, together with several PhD students and two industrialists.

“PEA is the technology that has had the greatest impact in terms of volume. Olink alone now has 600 people working with the method,” says Ulf. “In a drop of blood plasma, we can examine a variety of proteins and see the effects of disease or, for example, how patients respond to treatments. Everything is reflected in the protein pattern.”

Ulf’s first encounter with science was a happy coincidence, and his career can be likened to a random walk. It started a little differently as an assistant to a laboratory assistant at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

“However, it turned out that there was no laboratory assistant to assist, and my benevolent boss, Docent Gunnar Almgård, was more interested in teaching than in research,” Ulf says. “Consequently, at the age of 19, I found myself in a reasonably equipped, albeit windowless, laboratory, with a budget, access to a library and several helpful colleagues. I replicated the work of later Nobel laureate Oliver Smithies on isoenzymes as polymorphic markers for genotyping – enabling the distinction between genetic variants, and have since had the pleasure of pursuing similar questions.”

From idea to finished product

The curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit in Ulf drove him further into the world of research, and his interest in transferring knowledge from academia to business grew. With his team, he has built up a hard-to-beat patent portfolio in the field of molecular medicine, and Ulf is the inventor of 49 patents.

“In practice, academia and industry are a fantastic pair,” Ulf explains. “I like to say universities can be like machines for building companies. Here you have the opportunity to try your hand at researching anything, which can then be further commercialised for better applications. In my research group, we are now trying to get more ideas to blossom into companies.”

Proteins reveal our health

Uppsala has a solid research tradition when it comes to identifying and separating proteins. Protein analyses provide valuable information about the state of human health.

“I am pleased that Sweden was able to pioneer the use of PEA technology in 2014–2015,” says Ulf. “Today, we can measure proteins even in very low concentrations. These measurements are valuable and will have a major impact on healthcare in the future. The tests can be used for all diseases, infections and malignancies.”

The 2022 Olof Rudbeck Award

On Olof Rudbeck Day, Ulf Landegren will receive this year’s Olof Rudbeck Award and give a lecture on the highly topical “Molecular tools for precision medicine”.

“The Olof Rudbeck Award means a lot to me. Our research is well known internationally and perhaps even more so in business circles than in academia, so it’s particularly pleasing to receive recognition at home.

“I would also like to acknowledge all the PhD students and researchers in my group who have been instrumental in our progress over the years. It is going to be interesting during the Olof Rudbeck Day to hear the other lecturers talk about their research and the theme of the day, which is dementia,” concludes Ulf Landegren.