6. July, 22

Playing the trumpet and engaged in brain tumor research

A presentation of Ole Didrik Laerum

Ole Didrik Laerum is a Norwegian pathologist with a long, international research career who is associated to the DCCC Brain Tumor Center in Copenhagen as a visiting scientist. He is affiliated to the Department of Cancer Treatment (Radiation Biology Laboratory) Copenhagen University Hospital and to the Finsen Laboratory, Biotech Research & Innovation Center (BRIC), Copenhagen University.

Ole was appointed as Vice Director at the University of Bergen from 1983 to 1989 and from 1990-1996 as Head of the University of Bergen. He has been serving as president of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, as well as Head of the board of The Research Council of Norway. Ole has achieved several scientific prizes and honours for his life-long engagement in research.

Ole graduated in medicine from University of Oslo in 1965. From the age of 22 years, he also spent a shorter period at the Institut Pasteur, Paris where his interest in research was initiated. From the age of 22 years, he worked with research besides his clinical studies, and seven years later he defended his doctoral thesis on chemically induced skin carcinogenesis in hairless mice. Early in the 1970s he worked for nearly two years at Max-Planck-Institut für Virusforschung in Tübingen, a picturesque, old university town in the south of Germany.

For several years he has researched in malignant brain tumors induced by n-nitroso-compunds which were injected into the tail vein of rats late in pregnancy. When the fetuses were taken out one day later and a cell suspension of the brains explanted to cell culture, the cells underwent a stepwise malignant transformation during app. 7 months. This was the same time that it took to develop brain tumors in the offspring, but now the process was directly accessible and could be studied outside the body. This was a fundamental discovery which included characteristic changes in cell proliferation and differentiation as well as morphology and other markers. Later, he and his coworkers could show how the transformed cells were highly invasive, both in the brain and into spheroids of brain cells and solid brain tissue in organ culture, making brain invasion directly observable outside the body.

This research continued after his return to Norway, Oslo, where he was affiliated to the National Hospital (Rikshospitalet), later on he moved to Bergen in 1974 to build up an international research laboratory as professor of experimental pathology and oncology. A series of coworkers defended their doctoral theses from his laboratory and /or were postdocs, who later became professors in different fields, including Sverre Mørk (neuropathology), Rolf Bjerkvig (anatomy), Morten Lund-Johansen and Paal Henning Pedersen (neurosurgery), Ole Bjørn Tysnes and Bernt Engelsen (neurology), Olav Dahl and Olav Mella (oncology).

Ole is the main author or co-author of more than 60 scientific articles about brain tumors, and in total 45 candidates have defended their PhD or MD theses under his supervision. Altogether, he has published more than 300 original scientific articles listed on PubMed. He has also made pioneering contributions to other research fields, including, general cell population and stem cell kinetics, hematology, chronobiology and not least cancer invasion in human gastrointestinal tumors with emphasis on the plasminogen activation system.

In the early 1970s Ole was also the first Norwegian researcher working with flow cytometry, and some years later, also the first in Scandinavia to establish a laboratory for multiparameter high-speed flow cytometry and cell sorting. He has also been the president of International Society for Analytical Cytology.

Ole has been a visiting scientist for shorter or longer periods in several other countries, apart from Denmark and Germany, also in France, USA, Spain, Iceland and Costa Rica, totalling in 5 years abroad.  Since 2004, this includes nearly two years in Copenhagen. After compulsory retirement in Bergen in 2010, he became adjunct professor at Copenhagen University, here he had been awarded the position as honorary doctor in 2006. Every month, you can still meet Ole while working for a week in Copenhagen as a visiting scientist. Ole prefers to bicycle being his favorite transportation, even the Norwegian television followed Ole while bicycling in Copenhagen. Back home in Norway, Ole lives in a small community in the Western Norway 100 km east of Bergen, known for winter and extreme sports, which in the 19th century became immortal through a poem for singing and dancing written by the Danish-Norwegian author Carsten Hauch:  Paa Vossevangen der vil jeg bo.
With long background as amateur musician and main emphasis on jazz, he still plays trumpet in the local big band!

Ole’s main scientific contribution to the brain tumor research is described in the following article: 

Hülser, DF: Brain tumour development and invasion. An interview with Ole Didrik Laerum. Int J Dev Biol. 2004; 48: 497-508)