Örebro University is building a strong environment

The Knowledge Foundation wants to effectively support the development of strong research and educational environments. The Knowledge Foundation seeks to support the development of strong research and education environments that create value for academia, the business sector and society. Such research and educational environments can establish and maintain a strong, long-term, national and international scientific or artistic position which also contributes to the profiling of the universities.

Strong research on food and health

One of Örebro University’s strong research domains is food and health. Within it there is an established research environment that is attempting to understand the interaction between diet, the gut and the brain to find new treatments and ultimately new diagnostics.

It’s about common illnesses that affect the gut and the brain, but that also involve stress-related problems, upset stomachs and changes that come with ageing,” says Robert Brummer, Professor of Medicine who heads the research environment at Örebro University.

The research environment started to build up in 2012. It has always had an interdisciplinary approach and worked in cooperation with the healthcare sector and the business sector.

The medical faculty at Örebro is small and must find its own path. Building up interdisciplinary environments is a way of gaining critical mass. And our model has stood the test of time,” Robert Brummer points out.

Fernanda Roca, Robert Brummer and Julia König at the Nutrition-Gut-Brain Interactions Research Centre (NGBI), Örebro University.

From day one, its work has been supported by the Knowledge Foundation, which provided substantial support for developing a research profile back in 2011. Since then the environment has received money to recruit new researchers.

Without the support of the Knowledge Foundation, we would never have been able to develop and establish this field of research. This was the core of our funding. And being able to recruit associate senior lecturers has been incredibly important for building up our environment.”

The companies they work with are small companies that often do not have their own labs, and which can use the equipment that the university has, such as microscopes and medical imaging technology. In return, the researchers get help in understanding the problems that need solving.

“The model is to see what they need in terms of new tools, such as biomarkers, to explore a particular area that we can then develop together. The model is good for all of us. But collaborations mustn’t lead to ignoring new scientific developments.”

Major advantages from working with companies

One of the companies involved is the Swedish company Biogaia – which makes products that contain healthy bacteria, known as probiotics. The partnership is largely about running clinical studies.

In joint projects, for example, we’ve looked at how dietary supplements with probiotics affect gut function. We need clinical studies to ensure that a preparation is effective before it’s released on the market,” Robert explains.

Last year, the company and the Örebro researchers launched a joint study on COVID-19. The aim is to study whether the bacterium Limosilactobacillus reuteri and vitamin D can improve the response of the immune system’s antibodies to a COVID-19 infection. This clinical study is currently in progress and no data has come in yet.

But the collaboration is also about establishing what it is that makes a certain probiotic effective – or not.

When we have clinical data that indicates that a certain probiotic can have a specific anti-inflammatory effect, we go to the lab and research it thoroughly to understand the mechanisms involved. We have our own lab, but we also work with the university lab in Örebro,” says Gianfranco Grompone.

Integrated research and education

The knowledge environment at the university engages in research, education and collaboration. They educate doctors and provide a master’s programme in experimental medicine.

Education is important for passing the knowledge on to students. And when the students are working closely beside researchers and can see how research is conducted, they might be inspired to choose a research career. We’ve recruited new researchers this way,” says Robert Brummer.

Companies’ co-finances the research. On top of that the research is funded by bodies such as the Swedish Research Council and Formas and by various EU funds. The research domain has become important to the university. Örebro University has decided that Food and Health will be one of its profile areas. The others are Robotics and AI.