Focus on Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry: "Facing a very interesting future"

2023-11-09

What does an Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemist actually do? Join on a visit to BMC and the laboratory that helped expose a cheating Olympic gold medalist, frightened Sweden's urban swimmers, and currently has a central position in creating a treatment for the world's second-deadliest tumor disease.

Research underway at Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Research underway at Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry

In the spring of 2022, the media spotlight turned to Uppsala and the Biomedical Center. Emelie Sedvall, PhD student in Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry, had identified traces of 33 pharmaceutical substances while studying insects in the Fyris river. Many of them appeared in more than eighty percent of the samples. The anxiety was palpable and Emelie found herself answering countless questions about her results, at least until a SVT News team wanted to know how the insects' mood levels were affected by antidepressants.

See Emelie Sedvall in SVT News
See Emelie Sedvall in SVT News

“Our research team develops sophisticated analysis methods for complex sample materials. Tools that we use both in our own research and in interdisciplinary collaborations where chemical analysis is central to knowledge acquisition. Our results are relevant and often arouse great interest. The problem is that the journalists' questions often focus on other things than the methods we create, so here we face a pedagogical challenge,” states Mikael Hedeland, Professor of Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry.

Five years after Mikael Hedeland was recruited to Uppsala University, his group is involved in numerous projects that bridge the Faculties of Pharmacy and Medicine. Among the most high profile is a collaboration with the Uppsala University Hospital aiming to find new ways to treat primary liver cancer – currently the world's second deadliest tumor disease and a project the Swedish Research Council recently decided to support with a SEK 3.75 million grant. The interdisciplinary group includes Hans Lennernäs, Professor of Biopharmacy who has worked closely with Mikael Hedeland for twenty years:

“The development of new drugs and therapies requires increasingly sensitive methods for the analysis of active substances, their metabolites and effect on the body's own metabolites and markers. This goes for both engineer designed microsystems and patient samples, and the access to expertise in Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry enables Uppsala University to streamline pharmaceutical research and help improve healthcare’s capacity to follow and individualize future drug therapies,” says Hans Lennernäs, to date sharing 29 scientific publications with Mikael Hedeland.

The research team also creates headlines far beyond the pharmaceutical sphere. Using the fungus Cunninghamella, they discovered that the anabolic steroid oxandrolone, which the body rapidly excretes, leaves behind another, more long-lived and traceable substance. The results contributed to the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA re-analyzing 105 samples from the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. With the new knowledge, several cheaters were exposed and a number of medals revoked. Today, PhD student Malin Nilsson Broberg leads the research trail further:

Malin Nilsson Broberg, Award-winning PhD student
Malin Nilsson Broberg, Award-winning PhD student

“I discovered the subject when I participated in a summer research school at the Faculty of Pharmacy, and three days after receiving my Pharmacy degree, I started my PhD studies. Today, I am searching for metabolites that indicate the presence of illegal doping substances in humans and horses, a mission that for me comes with strong ethical incentives. If I were to describe the environment in our group, I think above all of how much everyone is contributing to the common, and of course the great commitment put into our educational activities,” says Malin, herself receiver of the 2022 Pharmaceutical Student Union's pedagogical award.

Analytical pharmaceutical chemistry keeps a significant position at Uppsala University's pharmaceutical educations. The number of mandatory courses is the highest among Sweden's Master of Science Programmes in Pharmacy and remains strong also in Scandinavian comparison. First cycle students learn about the toolbox the subject offers and how it should be used for best results. Further on, more complex problem are solved in the course laboratory. And many students return to elevate their knowledge to yet another level.

Jakob Haglöf, Excellent teacher
Jakob Haglöf, Excellent teacher

“Every semester we receive a large number of applications to conduct degree projects in our group. The students we welcome are both inspired and motivated, several choose to carry out their project in close collaboration with companies and authorities. More or less everyone goes directly from graduation to employment, and that some choose to stay with us as PhD students is of course very gratifying,” says Jakob Haglöf, one of eight Excellent teachers at the Faculty of Pharmacy.

In October 2023, the team initiated a two-day meeting with disciplinary colleagues at the Universities of Oslo and Copenhagen. With an initial focus on student and teacher exchanges, the possibilities for developed collaboration were highlighted. All parties rapidly identified opportunities to make use of each other's strengths, and at BMC Jakob Haglöf and Mikael Hedeland are already preparing implementation of oral exams – a system currently achieving great success in Oslo. Next autumn, Uppsala will host a second conference.

“Now we have laid the foundation for Scandinavian cooperation. We are about to start the recruitment of a SRC-financed PhD student with the aim of developing methods for more exact lipid analyses, which will open several important doors for us. In addition, we have several applications out that give us every reason to hope for continued success, so our group is undoubtedly facing a very interesting future,” concludes Mikael Hedeland.

Uppsala University's research group in Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Uppsala University's research group in Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry

FACTS

  • The Faculty of Pharmacy research team in Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry mainly covers bioanalysis - determination of drugs and metabolites in biological systems - with a particular focus on separation methods linked to mass spectrometry.
  • The team works with three main research directions: Drugs in the environment, Drug metabolism and doping control and Metabolomics – All with an interdisciplinary touch.
  • The team is always looking for talents who want to conduct a degree project, a PhD or work as a postdoc at BMC. Contact Mikael Hedeland for more information about the group's operations.

LEARN MORE

CONTACT

Mikael Hedeland, ProfessorMikael Hedeland, Professor
Dep. of Medicinal Chemistry
Mikael.Hedeland@ilk.uu.se

Jakob Haglöf, UniversitetsadjunktJakob Haglöf, Lecturer
Dep. of Medicinal Chemistry
Jakob.Haglof@ilk.uu.se

Malin Nilsson Broberg, DoktorandMalin Nilsson Broberg, PhD Student
Dep. of Medicinal Chemistry
Malin.Broberg@ilk.uu.se

Text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

News from the Department of Medicinal Chemistry

Last modified: 2022-11-10