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Mariana Dalarsson, a L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science in Sweden 2021 award recipient, has an interdisciplinary approach to fighting cancer.

The L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science in Sweden honors outstanding Swedish female scientists. The prize is awarded by L’Oréal Sweden, The Young Academy of Sweden and the Swedish National Commission for Unesco. The prize aims to promote “the scientists of tomorrow” by supporting them at an important stage in their career and encouraging more women to pursue a career in research. The laureates receive SEK 150,000 and a one-year mentorship program arranged by The Young Academy of Sweden.

One of the two 2021 winners was Mariana Dalarsson, researcher and assistant lecturer in Electromagnetic Theory at the Division of Electromagnetic Engineering (EME) at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (EECS) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

“I have also never had a female teacher during my university studies.”

“My research field is strongly dominated by men, which has from time to time resulted in  practical problems. For example, it was difficult to find a female member for the examining committee at my disputation. I have also never had a female teacher during my university studies,” she describes.

 

Marian Dalarsson

 

“However so far my collaborations with male colleagues have been completely correct and even very supportive, both during my studies as well as during my scientific career. Therefore, as a female student and young scientist I have basically only experienced very positive and encouraging treatment from my male teachers, supervisors and colleagues,” Dalarsson adds.

 

Advice to girls and young women

Mariana Dalarsson’s most important advice to girls and young women, which she will also pass on to her two daughters when they grow up, is to not let yourself be affected by different gender stereotypes that unfortunately still exist in our society.

“Therefore my advice to girls and young women is to ignore stereotypes and fight to retain their curiosity, imagination and creativity.”

“Mathematics and technology is not hard, and absolutely not something that is “only for boys”. Children are equally curious and have the same imagination and creativity, regardless of their gender, when they are young. Somehow girls are discouraged and lose that curiosity and imagination later during their schooling. Therefore my advice to girls and young women is to ignore stereotypes and fight to retain their curiosity, imagination and creativity,” she says.

 

Improving cancer treatments

Dalarsson received the L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science award with the motivation that she “with an innovative combination of electrotechnology and biophysics has studied how gold nanoparticles can be doped with nutrients so that they are selectively taken up by and destroy cancer cells.”

Studies have indicated that biological tissue can be heated up quickly and targeted using gold nanoparticles (GNP) that are conductive. Hopefully an non-invasive method to treat cancer can be developed. The GNPs might also be used as contrast agents for imaging diagnostics.

Dalarsson is investigating this kind of local limited heating using GNP, known as hyperthermia-based methods to treat cancer. The cancer cells attract GNPs doped with nutritions, for example folic acids in order to target the cancer cells’ specific biomarkers or antigenes. When the GNPs have been taken up by the cancer cells, an electromagnetic field is added, which indirectly destroys the cancer cells without affecting the surrounding healthy tissue (normal cells usually recover faster than cancer cells when exposed to heat or a combination of radiation and heat). However, this can only be achieved if the GNP solution has specific characteristics.

 

Mariana Dalarsson Photo Karl Nordlund

 

The goal with Dalarsson’s research is now to evaluate the optimal heating effects, both when it comes to temperature and the time of the heat exposure. She performs advanced mapping of the GNPs characteristics and develops a model to be able to predict which frequency that works the best and minimizes heating of surrounding healthy cells.

Her research may both improve the field of nanotechnology and improve cancer treatments. It also spans over several different research fields and collaborations with other universities in Sweden, the UK and the Czech Republic are planned.

“Lately it has become more interesting with applications within life sciences, where an interdisciplinary approach is crucial to achieve the research goals. It could be collaboration between electro technology, biotechnology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, etc.”

“The electromagnetic field equations are the basis for the description of many different practical applications in today’s society. Traditionally the focus has been on technical solutions within energy supply, electrical motors, optics, information technology, or similar. Lately it has become more interesting with applications within life sciences, where an interdisciplinary approach is crucial to achieve the research goals. It could be collaboration between electro technology, biotechnology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, etc,” explains Dalarsson.

 

Problem-solver and the best teacher

Throughout her career and studies, Mariana has received numerous awards, for example Teaching Assistant of the Year, an honorary scholarship for best student graduating from KTH, and several Young Scientist Awards at the international conference URSI (Union Radio Scientific International). She has supervised several students, is commissioned regularly to review scientific articles and has herself published a great number of scientific articles.
In parallel with her civil engineering education at KTH she was recruited as teaching assistant at the Institution for Mathematics. She took her PhD in electromagnetic theory in 2016 and continued as postdoc at the Linné University, where she was promoted to Docent.

“Partly I want to become the world’s best teacher within my field so that more youths in general, and more young women especially, can learn and discover the fantastic subject that electromagnetism certainly is.”

Mariana Dalarsson was born in Ludvika, Sweden, in 1989, and she has still many years of research ahead of her. She says her future dreams are twofold.

“Partly I want to contribute with solutions to certain societal problems, like for example develop safe and effective cancer treatment methods by using radio waves/microwaves. Partly I want to become the world’s best teacher within my field so that more youths in general, and more young women especially, can learn and discover the fantastic subject that electromagnetism certainly is.”

 

You have to be prepared for drawbacks

Dalarsson says that the best part of having a career as a scientist is that you get the possibility to perform advanced and creative work that can contribute to increased understanding of different phenomenons in nature and human society. “Thereby, possibilities to solve different societal problems, like environmental, health, security, IT problems etc., are created.”

“There is no signposted road forward when you want to explore new things.”

She cannot name any disadvantages to being a scientist, except possibly one.

“From time to time I have found it difficult to combine a research career with family life. In addition, you have to be prepared for drawbacks and failures in your research work, i.e. you have to scrap everything you have done for a long time and start all over. There is no signposted road forward when you want to explore new things,” Dalarsson says.

Photographer: Karl Nordlund