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Published: 2022-09-28 Updated: 2022-10-11, 13:09

The walls of the cell - vital in the fight against many diseases

PROFILE Covid and other severe viral diseases are about infected cells. If we learn more about how the cell's walls are formed and how this in turn affects the cell's properties, we could create drugs that counteract these infections and other diseases. Umeå researcher Richard Lundmark believes that this research creates completely new points of attack for the drugs of the future.

Text: Bertholof Brännström
Image: Mattias Pettersson

Richard Lundmark is professor of Histology and Cell Biology and leads an international research group at Umeå University. The group studies the mechanisms required to reshape the walls of the cell, that enable proteins and other substances to enter the cell.

The balance between which substances are taken into or sent out of the cells is vital, as disorders can lead to disease or other complications such as obesity, viral diseases such as covid, but also cancer.

Viruses create small spaces in the membrane where they can secretly copy their genome and do great harm

Richard Lundmark's research group focuses on the proteins that sculpt the cell's walls, or membranes as they are called, into vesicles. Some vesicles are important for regulating cell uptake and secretion of fat, while others are harmful and are created when viruses infect our cells. 

"Viruses create small spaces of their own in the membrane where they are not visible to the cell. There they can secretly copy their genome and do great harm. We want to understand how viruses do this and how the blisters build up", says Richard Lundmark.

Was set on becoming an architect

The research group at Richard Lundmark Lab is located high up in the Biology Building at Umeå University. The premises are bright and practical, and it is Richard himself who designed the work environment, where offices and laboratories are gathered in the same corridor for the most efficient use.

Perhaps not so strange considering his own dreams as a young man.

"For a long time, I was set on becoming an architect. But it occurred to me that it was difficult to get a job in that profession, so I started studying the programme in Molecular Biology. During the last year of the programme, I had the chance to be at the graduate school and study under Sven Carlsson at Department of Medical Chemistry and Biophysics."

Built his own research group in Umeå

Richard remained there. Under the supervision of Sven Carlsson, he wrote his doctoral thesis in 2004 and then applied to the prestigious Cambridge University, and a two-year post-doc position with the renowned cell researcher Harvey McMahon followed.

"It was a very good match, as his group also researched how different proteins sculpt the cell's membranes."

Knowing that something is possible often breeds success

After his years in England, Richard Lundmark, with the help of large grants from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, the Swedish Research Council and MIMS, got the chance to build his own research group in Umeå. The research area is considered important and success could easily be of great benefit to public health.

The potential is, as they say, great.

Poke at processes we want to prevent

"Absolutely. If we could understand in detail how it happens when the cellular membranes and these vesicles where harmful substances enter the cells are sculpted, then we could poke at processes that we want to prevent.

Something that would thus make it possible to design drugs that could help millions of people all over the world.

How close are you?

"It's hard to say, but together with other research groups, we have started to put the puzzle together and are getting more and more pieces in place. I would think that it is at least not more than 5-10 years away before we know how the membrane vesicles we are now studying are created", says Richard Lundmark. 

It sounds like Nobel Prize-class research. 

He laughs.

"That could be the case, you never really know where curiosity research takes you. And why not, you have to have the idea. Knowing that something is possible often breeds success."

More about Richard Lundmark

Family: Wife Ida and children Samuel (22 years), Elias (20 years) and Lina (16 years) 
Comes from: Ostvik
Lives: Sävar, 18 kilometers from Umeå
Drives me at work: I want to know how things work 
Best relaxation: Hunting and fishing and the summer cottage