Mikael Sellin 2018-2020

is awarded the prize/grant 2018 for his innovative work on bacterial gastrointestinal infections. He has developed a unique organ model for studying how bacteria, like Salmonella, penetrate cells in the intestine and how they interact with cellular components.  

Mikael Sellin received his PhD in cell biology from Umeå University. Thereafter he decided to change research direction and moved to the ETH Zürich, Switzerland, to pursue post-doctoral work in bacterial infection biology. In 2016 Mikael relocated back to Sweden and Uppsala University, where he currently holds an Associate Senior Lecturer position at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology.

Do You Have the Guts to Study Bacterial Infection?

Gut infections constitute a leading cause of morbidity worldwide, with estimates of up to two billion disease cases annually. Enterobacteria, such as Salmonella, Escherichia, and Shigella species account for more than half a billion of these infections. Pathogenic enterobacteria are characterized by the ability to bind and/or invade the epithelium of the intestinal mucosa, thereby triggering an inflammatory tissue response. Antibiotic treatment has proven remarkably inefficient at clearing these infections and may in some cases even increase bacterial shedding from the infected individual. Moreover, the heavy use of antibiotics in healthcare and agriculture has led to a fast spread of resistance mechanisms among enterobacterial isolates. Hence, we have both curiosity-driven and clinical incentives to better understand the relevant microbe – host interactions that drive intestinal infectious disease. 

Mechanisms of bacterium - host cell interplay have traditionally been studied under simplified cell culture settings, where pure bacteria and tumour-derived cell lines are mixed in a culture medium. Such experiments have uncovered a wealth of potential biochemical interactions between microbe and host cell. However, to understand the relevant molecular and physiological underpinnings of a “real” gut infection, additional approaches are needed. Recent developments in so called organoid models now allow us to grow authentic replicas of the intestinal tract outside of the body. These new experimental systems make it possible to tackle how bacterial disease progresses on the cellular and molecular level also under more physiological conditions. 

“- In short, we now literally have the guts to study bacterial infection”

Our laboratory combines infection studies in intestinal organoids with biochemical assays, bacterial genetics, and state-of-the-art light microscopy, to explore the mechanisms sparking bacterial gut disease. We focus our work on clinically important enterobacteria, for example Salmonella and Shigella species. The long-term ambition is that our work will form the basis for future therapeutic approaches against these challenging infectious agents.

Creation of a Strong Research Environment

Me and the rest of our team are truly honoured to have been granted the Lennart Philipson Award. One of the reasons that Lennart Philipson became such a prominent figure in the biomedical science community, was his ability to create dynamic and collaborative research environments of the highest standard. With the support from MOLPS, we will attempt to walk in these footsteps. The Lennart Philipson Award funds allows us to further develop an advanced imaging platform and methodology for live studies of bacterial infections. Not only will this fuel the work conducted in our own laboratory. We have also begun building a local network of collaborators with an interest in gut physiology and infections. Our mission is to create a vibrant research environment around these topics at Uppsala University in the years to come.