Klas Kullander, associate professor of neuroscience at Uppsala University, is one of five winners of the Göran Gustafsson Prize for 2009 - the largest national prize for research in natural science and the most prestigious for young researchers. The prize is SEK 4.5 million over three years, as well as a personal award of SEK 100,000.
"This is really great, and one of the best things about the prize is that it's not at all rigorously earmarked. Instead you are free to pursue projects you didn't dare to do previously. Today it's virtually unique for a researcher to have an opportunity to bring out creative ideas without having to define a budget or highlight the utilitarian aspect of research. Even though my research has applications in several fields, it's basic research that advances our knowledge," says Klas Kullander.
Klas Kullander is 42 years old, and he directs the Unit for Developmental Biology at the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University. His research is about understanding how neuronal circuits are formed and their function in the brain and spine. He received the prize "for his work in mapping molecular mechanisms for communication between nerve cells in functional networks, especially between nerves that regulate our walking patterns."
From a biological point of view, the functions of the brain are based on neuronal networks.
"Our ability to remember, our thinking, and our motor activities are dependent on correct coupling and communication between nerve cells," he says. The nervous system is extremely complicated - a human brain contains 100 billion nerve cells divided into at least 10,000 different subtypes of nerve cells and where each nerve cell receives an average of 10,000 contacts from other nerve cells.
A breakthrough in our understanding of motor circuits came in 2003, when the research team was able to show how a genetic change re-programmed the development of a spinal cord circuit. His group has also recently identified a key link between nerve paths that are relevant to how imbalance arises in the chemistry of the brain, in schizophrenia, for example.
"Our ambition is to prevent and cure diseases and damage to the nervous system, and this requires a deeper understanding of how the components of our brain communicate with each other," says Klas Kullander.
The prize, SEK 4.5 million in research funding spread over three years, as well as a personal prize of SEK 100,000, will in all probability entail that they will be able to expand the research team, which today consists of some 15 researchers at various levels.
More information: Klas Kullander, tel: +46 18 471 45 19, +45 70 846 75 24 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org