Jenny Hallgren Martinsson 2012–2014

Jenny Hallgren´ s group studies allergic processes on the molecular level, especially asthma and in particular the role of mast cells, which are involved in allergic reactions.

”As a child I remember being fascinated by the word laboratory”

In 2012, Jenny Hallgren Martinsson, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University became the first recipient of the Malin and Lennart Philipson Prize and Award for her work on mast cells in asthma and her leadership qualities. 

– I was tremendously excited to receive the prize. It was an honor and gave me a great opportunity to establish a good research group. 

Hallgren´ s group studies allergic processes on the molecular level, especially asthma and in particular the role of mast cells, which are involved in allergic reactions. 

– Mast cells are a type of immunological defense cells, which increase in number in an asthmatic lung. This is because immature mast cells called “mast cell progenitors” migrate from the blood stream into the lung.  As a post-doc at Brigham and Women’s hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, I was involved in the first demonstration of this process. Lately, my group has shown the existence of mast cell progenitors in adult mouse blood and that mice with a greater tendency to develop allergies have more mature mast cell progenitors than other mice. This was published recently in Allergy. It remains to be seen if this mechanism also occurs in allergic versus healthy humans. 

Develop a drug

– By determining the mechanisms that regulate the recruitment of mast cell progenitors from the blood into the lung in asthma, we hope this knowledge can be used in the future to develop a drug that can prevent the entry of mast cell progenitors to the lung in asthma patients. This may then prevent worsening of the disease due to further increased numbers of mature mast cells in the lung.

– Our key task is to do basic research but we also collaborate with the University Hospital in Uppsala, studying asthma patients to see if we can identify mast cell progenitors in human blood. No one knows, but if they are there, we have a good chance of finding them. 

Doing It My Way

– I have always had a drive do things my way, ever since I was a child. I don't come from an academic family, but I have always been interested in science. In the PhD program, they saw my passion for research. As a child I remember being fascinated by the word ”laboratory”.  

– As a post-doc, I spent some time in one of the world´s leading mast cell laboratories, Frank Austen’s lab in Boston. When I came back to Sweden, I got a Science Council grant and started my own research group. The group is small, but I hope it will grow. Presently, my group is made up of two PhD students and a half time laboratory assistant. 

– Thanks to the Lennart Philipson prize, we can recruit a post-doctoral fellow as well. I never knew Lennart Philipson personally – he had moved on before I arrived in Uppsala - but I heard a lot of things about him from older scientists in Uppsala. I grew to learn more about him and understand his enormous contributions to science in Uppsala and elsewhere.