At a small preclinical laboratory at Sahlgrenska Science Park, Arvid Carlsson continues to study the same neurotransmitters that have fascinated him ever since the 1950s.
“My daughter, Maria, is the laboratory manager,” he says. “Without her commitment, I would have been an ordinary pensioner today. I’m also delighted that her son, Johan Emil, will be carrying out part of his internship here.”
Professor Carlsson believes that he has now arrived at a couple of simple truths, albeit via rather meandering routes. Firstly, that it is more important to focus on the symptoms than the diagnosis. And secondly, that medication should stabilise the levels of various substances in the body, instead of dramatically increasing or reducing them.
In terms of research, his greatest hope for the future is called OSU6162.
“The exciting thing is that the substance acts as stabiliser for the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. If the patient has too much dopamine, for example, as is often the case with schizophrenia, then OSU6162 moderates the levels. If on the other hand the patient has too little, it increases the level. If the neurotransmitters are constantly kept at a neutral level – never too high, never too low – the body does not need to produce any counter-reactions. This means that the patient doesn’t experience either short-term or long-term side effects.”
The substance has already been tested several times, including at Karolinska Institutet where it was included in a study on rats examining alcohol dependence. The results out-perform all other substances in this area.
Furthermore, a study was recently carried out on twelve patients suffering from mental fatigue, in which seven of the participants found that their symptoms disappeared after just a few days.
“Mental fatigue is something that we’re particularly interested in, since it has many different causes – everything from strokes and cranial injuries to various neurological diseases. If the same substance can be used regardless of the cause of the complaint, this provides strong support for the idea that it is the symptoms, not the diagnosis, that are important. Unfortunately, all pharmaceutical trials take a very long time. Of course, it’s important to be meticulous, but at the same time I believe that the risks should be weighed up against all the suffering endured by patients in the meantime. The substance has also been tested for chronic fatigue syndrome, and the results are due in a matter of weeks.”
Professor Carlsson turned 90 on 25 January. However, he is not interested in lavish ceremonies, and chose to go away rather than having a big celebration.
Instead, he continues to work as he always has. He has not lost his youthful sense of curiosity, and he and his wife Ulla-Lisa still ensure that they take their daily walks.
“Sadly, my balance is no longer what it used to be. I used to be able to jump from stone to stone to reach the water at our summer cottage in Onsala. Unfortunately I can’t do that anymore.”
FACTS ON ARVID CARLSSON
Latest news: Turned 90 on 25 January.
Career: Researcher at Lund University 1951-1959, visiting researcher at the National Institutes of Health 1955-1956, Professor at the University of Gothenburg 1959-1989. He won Israel’s Wolf Prize in 1979, the Japan Prize in 1994 and the Nobel Prize in 2000. He is a board member of A Carlsson Research, which is supported by Sahlgrenska Science Park, Region Västra Götaland and Gothia Forum.
Live: In Änggården, with a summer house in Onsala.
Family: Wife Ulla-Lisa, who is also almost 90 years old, and children Bo, Lena, Hans, Maria (a colleague) and Magnus. Twelve grandchildren.
Krister Svahn, Press officer, University of Gothenburg
+46 (0) 31-786 3869