Three new honorary doctors at Karolinska Institutet

Paolo Chiesi, Douglas Easton, and Sophie Ekman appointed in 2019

Three new honorary doctors have been appointed by the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet. Paolo Chiesi, Douglas Easton, and Sophie Ekman will have their doctorates formally conferred at Stockholm City Hall on 10 May 2019.

Paolo Chiesi has as part of the family company Chiesi Farmaceutici S.p.A. since 1987 supported research on surfactant. In the early 1980’s researchers at Karolinska Institutet developed a substance called Curosurf, intended on treating prematurely born children suffering from respiratory distress syndrome. Curosurf is derived from the lungs of pigs, and a collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry became necessary in order to produce a sufficient quantity. As head of research at Chiesi Farmaceutici, Paolo Chiesi supported the project from the start.

Beyond financial support, Paolo Chiesi also launched Curosurf on the market and has continued to support annual international research meetings for neonatologists. With the support of Chiesi Farmaceutici, a synthetic version of surfactant has now been developed at Karolinska Institutet, and is currently undergoing clinical tests. If successful, synthetic surfactant could lead to more premature born children being treated.

“I feel honored to receive this honorary degree from one of the most prestigious and respected medical universities of the world. I am grateful, as it is totally unexpected and crowns a life I almost entirely devoted to chasing after the scientific research, I think with a curious, open-minded, perhaps not fully methodical approach. Finally, I must say I am moved, as the excellent researchers I met at Karolinska Institutet in the eighties and with whom I have been collaborating since then have also become cherished friends”, says Paolo Chiesi.

Douglas Easton has over the past three decades focused his research on identifying genetic determinants of breast cancer. His achievements have dramatically improved our understanding of how breast cancer is inherited. Douglas Easton was one of the co-founders of the Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium that was active 1990-1996. He played an important role in defining how mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes contribute not only to breast cancer, but prostate and pancreatic cancer as well.

In 2005 Douglas Easton initiated the Breast Cancer Association Consortium with the aim of identifying how single nucleotide polymorphisms can help in explaining breast cancer. His work has had positive clinical implications, both in Sweden and internationally.

“I am deeply grateful to be receiving an honorary doctorate from the Karolinska Institutet. I have been involved in fruitful collaborations with scientists at this university over many years and I feel this award is, in part, a recognition of the success of these collaborations, which have involved some of the largest ever studies in cancer genetics. I am particularly proud to be receiving an award from Karolinska Institutet, one of the most prestigious research institutes in the world, in recognition of the international impact of our work”, says Douglas Easton.

In four decades, Sophie Ekman has worked as school doctor in Sweden, including 30 years as head of the school health services in Solna. 1987 she co-founded the Swedish Physicians against AIDS Research Foundation (Stiftelsen Läkare mot AIDS Forskningsfond) together with colleagues. Sophie Ekman has been the fundraiser for the trust fund and with inspiring effort collected the substantial capital, which annually is distributed within the HIV research field.

Sophie Ekman has on her own initiative started several large-scale and non-profit public health campaigns related to school health services, which have involved numerous parts of society. On a broad front she has fought for improved wellness among children, for instance through the anti-drug campaign Just Say No and the world’s first anti-smoke campaign with parents as the target audience. Sophie Ekman has also contributed to the effort of earlier detection of neuropsychiatric disabilities as ADHD and autism in society.

“I am exceedingly happy and feel great gratitude about HIV issues again being in the spotlight. I thank Karolinska Institutet from all of my heart. This international reward emphasizes the importance of traditional school health services. A local public health institute, until 2010 present in all Swedish schools, make a difference for the health of both children and parents”, says Sophie Ekman.

The first honorary doctors of medicine at Karolinska Institutet were appointed in 1910. Each year, about 20 nominations are submitted to The Board of Research. Nominations are accepted from permanent staff members at Karolinska Institutet with a doctorate. Between 2000 and 2018, 74 new honorary doctors have been appointed, of which 21 were women.

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