Mention Jan-Åke Gustafsson, and anyone interested in medical science would probably know who you are talking about. His research is mainly focused on nuclear receptors, which together with proteins regulate the expression of the genes. Research in this field could in the long run lead to development of new treatments for cancer and diabetes.
Before arriving in Texas and the University of Houston, Gustafsson was a researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, where he among other things worked to establish and brand the South Karolinska Campus South in Huddinge. Now, reaching the age of retirement, he experienced what many older researchers do in Sweden: you can no longer get funding from the government for your research. This opened the door for other international universities who approached him with offers.
Jan-Åke Gustafsson decided in favor of University of Houston. When joining them in January 2009 they advertised his arrival at their campus with big road signs in Houston saying “You are the Pride”.
Speaking of pride: generally, a life scientist would be proud writing 100 scientific papers in his or her career, Gustafsson however has around 1 300 papers.
- President Rhenu Khator has a vision to take University of Houston to a top tier university, which is something I feel at home with from the time when we established Karolinska Campus South. At the same time I feel grateful that University of Houston hired a guy in Sweden close to his retirement, which in Sweden is almost the same as decapitation, explains Gustafsson.
Today, Gustafsson spends 80 percent of his time here in Houston and 20 percent at Karolinska Institutet.
The importance of interpreting dots
Science sometimes demands patience of those involved.
It took four years of laboratory testing and analyzing, but when Jan-Åke Gustafsson and his colleges saw the lines between the dots on that picture in front of him, he knew they were on to something.
What he was looking at was the proof that estrogen receptors can bind to the genes in the chromosomal DNA, which means that the receptors can influence the genes in different ways. The discovery would change the scientific field, opening a more mechanistic approach on how to study hormones. Before that, the molecular mechanisms for hormone activity were not known. These small dots and lines showed that the receptors could affect our DNA and the production of the RNA.