Olof Idevall-Hagren 2014–2016

Olof Idevall-Hagren has been awarded the M L Philipson award for research on the regulation of insulin secretion from the pancreatic beta-cells. In his research he uses state-of-the-art molecular biology and imaging techniques to characterise the molecular mechanisms underlying this fundamental process.

After receiving his PhD in Medical Cell Biology from Uppsala University in 2010, Olof Idevall-Hagren joined Pietro De Camilli’s laboratory at Yale University for his postdoctoral training. In 2013 he returned to Sweden and Uppsala University, where he is now establishing an independent research group at the Department of Medical Cell Biology. His research focuses on characterization of the molecular mechanisms regulating pancreatic beta cell function and their failure during diabetes.

During my doctoral work, I developed a technique that allowed real-time detection of insulin secretion from individual, insulin secreting beta-cells. Using this microscopy-based approach, I found that glucose, which is the major physiological stimulator of insulin secretion, regulated hormone release by two distinct mechanisms. One of these mechanisms was previously uncharacterized and involved conversion of the sugar into a signaling molecule called cyclic AMP (cAMP). Several of the drugs that are currently used in type-2 diabetes treatment aims at elevating the beta-cell levels of cAMP, and the finding that glucose by it self generate this molecule has potential therapeutic applications. During subsequent postdoctoral work at Yale University, I left diabetes research to pursue more fundamental cell biological research. This work led to the development of molecular tools that enabled control of cellular functions by laser light. These tools were used to show the importance of a specific class of lipids in the regulation of cellular homeostasis. I also contributed to the identification of a family of proteins that controls the distribution and function of the endoplasmic reticulum, the cellular organelle  responsible for protein and lipid synthesis in cells.

In my own laboratory, I will utilize tools and techniques developed during my postdoctoral training to study mechanisms underlying altered beta-cell function in diabetes. In particular, we will study how the structure and function of the endoplasmic reticulum, which is the site of insulin synthesis, changes as beta-cells progress from a state of health to one of disease. Hopefully, this will lead to a better understanding of diabetes and to new potential strategies for the intervention of disease progression. I collaborate both within and outside our department at Uppsala University, and I also maintain close collaboration with my postdoctoral mentor, Pietro De Camilli.

Thanks to the support from the Malin and Lennart Philipson foundation I have been given the best possible start to my independent research career. The funding allows me to recruit a PhD student, and this expansion of my research group will have tremendous impact on the work we can perform in the laboratory. 

I never had the opportunity to meet Lennart Philipson, but I have many times heard his name mentioned with great warmth and respect. I have also had the opportunity to visit and spend some time at two of the institutions that bears his mark, EMBL and the Skirball Institute at NYU, so I have seen what he has accomplished. It is a tremendous honor to receive this prize, and also reassuring in a way. The prize is a receipt that my research is progressing in the right direction.

Read more about Olof Idevall-Hagren research group.