Medical centre recruiting top junior researchers

Tremendous amounts of money, an ambitious and carefully considered appointment process and major start-up packages for new employees – these are the three things that characterise WCMM, the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine in Lund.

Freddy Sthlberg, professor, verksamhetsfretrdare i Lunds universitets styrelse

Professor Freddy Ståhlberg is the director of WCMM.

WCMM in Lund has sister organisations at the universities in Umeå, Gothenburg and Linköping. Together with the national centre SciLife Lab in Stockholm, they intend to improve Sweden’s status in the world of biomedical research.

“The Swedish pharmaceutical industry has lost ground and hospital physicians have increasingly less time to conduct research. The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation have wanted to make an effort to improve the situation”, explains Anders Malmström.

At WCMM in Lund, Anders Malmström is the co-director, Freddy Ståhlberg the director and Fredrik Ghosh the clinical co-director. They are all professors – of matrix biology, MRI physics and ophthalmology respectively.

The decision to establish WCMM was made in early 2015, and now the first positions are about to be filled. This involves a major investment. With the help of SEK 225 million from the Wallenberg Foundation, SEK 150 million from the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University, and SEK 150 million from Region Skåne, over the next ten years the centre will recruit ten top junior international researchers. Each one will be working together with a clinical colleague, employed at 50%, within the same field.

The theme for WCMM in Lund is regenerative medicine, which could be about transplanting dopamine cells into the brain in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, repairing cartilage in cases of arthritis, healing unhealthy lung tissue, or improving the beta cells of a diabetes patient.

Most of the ten junior full-time researchers will be appointed to positions as associate senior lecturer. They will each receive generous start-up packages in the form of two postdocs, two doctoral students and SEK 1.5 million a year over four years, after which they can apply for posts as senior lecturer funded by the Faculty of Medicine. Each of the clinical researchers will also receive SEK 1.5 million a year as well as a 50% appointment for four years.

Although the Academic Appointments Board decides on the actual appointments, WCMM contributes by finding good candidates. It is not enough to issue a call for applications; it requires an active search for candidates in all networks.

It is also about grouping the selected people with potential partners within and outside the University, providing assistance with personal identity numbers, insurance and residence permits, offering advice on job opportunities for potential partners, etc. Associate professor and neuroscience researcher Ulrica Englund Johansson has been appointed research coordinator in charge of these and other tasks.

“This is all very important, as the hardest thing is getting the people selected to take that step. These are top junior researchers who receive offers from several directions, so we have to show them why they should choose Lund specifically”, says Freddy Ståhlberg.

As an MRI physicist, he finds himself in a new territory.

“Throughout my career, I have acquired physical objects – MRI magnets, etc. Now I am to acquire people instead….It’s hard but also incredibly exciting!”, he says.

Two calls for applications have been issued: one in cardiovascular diseases and one in neuroscience. Anja Meissner from Germany, with research experience from both Canada and Spain, has been appointed to the former position. Both of the two 50% clinical positions have also been filled, by cardiologist Gustav Smith, and neurologist Gesine Paul-Visse from LU and the Skåne University Hospital.

Due to the large number of medical students in Sweden facing an uncertain future, the Wallenberg centre’s international approach is somewhat controversial, and left some people asking: why cross the river to get to water? However, the Wallenberg Foundation’s initiative was specifically intended for the recruitment of junior researchers with international experience, stressing the importance of incorporating new ideas into Swedish universities.

“If the initiative turns out to be successful, these newcomers can become strong research leaders and benefit Sweden’s medical faculties in the future”, hope Freddy Ståhlberg and Anders Malmström.

Ingela Björck