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The EpiHealth cohort includes a biobank from which we can retrieve important research data

Blood sample. Photo

Professor Olle Melander has been awarded research support from SRA EpiHealth for the employment of a postdoc for the project “Translational epidemiological studies of the cardiometabolic hormones neurotensin and adrenomedullin”

SRA EpiHealth is interested in knowing how he intends to use the EpiHealth cohort in his research and Olle explains “The beauty of a big cohort such as the EpiHealth cohort is that its rich set of clinical data is combined with a blood biobank, from which we can retrieve large amounts of data for our research”.

Olle is a professor of internal medicine at the Faculty of Medicine, Lund University and senior consultant at the Department of Internal Medicine, Skåne University Hospital in Malmö. He is a principal investigator and research team manager of Cardiovascular Research – Hypertension. He completed his MD in 1996 and received his PhD in Genetic factors in primary hypertension in 2000. Olle focuses on novel interventions for prevention and treatment of diabetes-related cardiovascular disease (CVD). 

We use the EpiHealth cohort because it is a population-based cohort which is essential for our kind of research since we first need to map who the high-risk individuals in the population are. Healthy people with high risk of e.g. cardiovascular disease or diabetes need to be identified before new primary preventive treatments tested specifically in those individuals” says Olle. He continues, “Once a person gets for example type 2 diabetes there is often already organ damage, but we try to do something before the diagnosis and organ damage occurs. We investigate preventive treatments about 5-10 years before the person gets the disease”.

We ask Olle to explain to the reader how they can identify high-risk individuals from the EpiHealth cohort and measure these risk factors. “In our research, this is something that we can measure in the blood by looking at three categories of biomarkers which include genetic factors, hormonal disturbances and metabolites. Genetic factors can contribute to cardiovascular diseases or diabetes and the DNA alterations reveal that a person can be predisposed to these illnesses since birth. Hormonal disturbances are not present quite as early but something we can trace 10-15 years before they occur. Metabolites reflect what we eat and reveal our eating habits. We measure small molecules in blood samples from the diet. Metabolites reveal how your body handles nutrients and how well you store fat, among other things. Also, they can be altered due to bad diet habits”, says Olle.

During the interview we discuss how it is possible to measure a “bad diet”. Olle elaborates on his explanation above. “We can measure the levels of for example beta-Carotene, one of the metabolites, which reveals how much fruit and vegetables a person eats and if the person has a high risk of getting diabetes in the future. Low levels of beta-Carotene mean a higher risk of getting the disease”. He continues “This does not mean that beta-Carotene is the solution to the problem but when we measure it, we can identify people who eat too little fruit and vegetables. This, of course does not mean that we forget about everything else that matters too such as looking a people´s physical activity habits”.

We continue the interview by discussing obesity since this is a growing problem in the population and we ask Olle if there is a way to measure obesity in the blood. Olle explains “Neurotensin is secreted from the small intestines into the blood stream and is turned on when it contains fat. It makes sure that the fat you eat is absorbed and stored in the fat tissue around the bowel and inside the liver. We  believe that having high neurotensin used to be a survival mechanism during e.g. the stone age when we had less access to food and periods with less intake of food and thus efficient storage of fat was a survival benefit.  Today, a constant intake of food in individuals with high neurotensin can instead lead to obesity and cause liver diseases, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses.

We ask Olle how this can be measured in the blood and what preventive measures of obesity they are investigating. “We separate the plasma by adding antibodies that recognize peptide sequences of hormones from which we can determine the plasma concentration of neurotensin. A level of over 150 picomoles per liter in the blood indicates an efficient absorption and storage of fat which on the other hand can lead to obesity. Obesity can be prevented by changing diets, but we are also looking at therapeutic measures such as using a drug that can block the secretion of neurotensin which can reduce the amount of fat in the liver. This is an intervention study, and our aim is to prevent people from getting diabetes and metabolic and cardiovascular diseases”.

For more information about cardiovascular research and diabetes research in Sweden, please visit:

Cardiovascular Research - Hypertension

EXODIAB: Excellence in Diabetes Research in Sweden