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Photo of Arvid Carlsson: the 2000 Nobel Laureate in Medicine
Arvid Carlsson, professor emeritus and Nobel Laureate in Medicine, photographed in Vasaparken in spring 2010.
Photo: Johan Wingborg
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Arvid Carlsson: the 2000 Nobel Laureate in Medicine

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Arvid Carlsson (1923-2018), pharmacologist and professor emeritus at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, was in the year 2000 awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering research on the signal substances of the brain.

Arvid Carlsson, in a podcast from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, 2016:

Dopamine is involved in everything that happens in our brain, all the important functions.

By acquiring knowledge on how substances such as dopamine and serotonin can be influenced, Arvid Carlsson and his research team were part of developing medicines that increase the mobility of patients with Parkinson’s disease and help improve the lives of those with schizophrenia. In addition, their research laid the foundation for modern medicines against anxiety and depression.

In close cooperation with the industry

Arvid Carlsson was one of the Gothenburg researchers who set the stage for close cooperation with the pharmaceutical company Astra Hassle, later AstraZeneca – a collaboration that led to internationally renowned medicines like Seloken, Zelmid, Plendil and Losec.

Scientific breakthrough

Arvid Carlsson was, in his early career, able to demonstrate that dopamine acts as a message carrier molecule in the brain, and that a shortage of this substance gives rise to impaired motor skills in the case of Parkinson's disease, for example.

In clinical studies, an agent which is converted into dopamine in the brain, DOPA, was found to lead to massively improved motor skills in many severely disabled patients. For a long time this agent has been the most effective treatment available for Parkinson's disease.

Multiple scientific breakthroughs

Arvid Carlsson's studies into the function of dopamine led to another scientific breakthrough in 1963. He discovered that the medications which ease the symptoms of schizophrenia and other psychotic diseases reduse  the influence of dopamine in the brain.

Treatment revolution

Arvid Carlsson and his colleagues were also the first people to realise that selective amplification of the signal substance serotonin is an effective and fairly gentle way of treating depression. Prozac, which revolutionised the treatment of depression and anxiety diseases, is based on this mode of action.

The observation that it is possible to influence the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and psychosis by modifying dopamine activity has been of crucial importance to our understanding of these diseases. But even more important is the fact that these studies have made it clear for the first time that it is actually possible to influence the function of the brain by modulating the signal substances that deal with communication between the neurons by means of medicines.

Later research on pharmacological therapy for many neurological and psychiatric diseases is to alarge extent based on this strategy demonstrated by Arvid Carlsson.

In 2016 Arvid Carlsson was interviewed in a podcast at his faculty, Sahlgrenska Academy, about his ongoing research and all the awards he had received during his long career:

“I couldn’t have received so many prizes if I had got the Nobel Prize earlier, because then they stop giving other prizes.”

“The award that you get from patients, compared to all the awards I have received, is much more important.”