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SEK 40 million donation to the Faculty of Medicine

picture of petri dish. photo
Photo: Kennet Ruona.

In November 2021, a private foundation was established to promote scientific research in pancreatic cancer, gastroenterology, and pain management at Lund University. The foundation will be endowed with a total of SEK 40 million and will be managed by Lund University. Earlier this spring, the first grants from the foundation were distributed – approx. SEK 3 million will support the efforts of five scientific researchers in the above-mentioned research areas.

A bit after his wife’s passing from pancreatic cancer, Lars, * a resident of Lund, was reflecting on an article in Lund University Magazine – LUM that he had read some years earlier. He remembered a text about Philanthropy Day and the good deeds that research can achieve if it is given the right prerequisites and support. With his strong social commitment to the community and his interest in the Swedish economy and business life, along with medical care and community associations, it was natural for him to start thinking in terms of a donation. Lars contacted the University’s Development Office, which provided him with guidance and support. During a meeting with the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine among others, the form of the foundation was designed.

“It feels really good to be able to support a cause that is close to my heart and where I know the money will be put to good use,” explains Lars.

A passionate interest in Swedish companies

Lars has been investing in Swedish companies shares since the 1960s, and it is these long-standing investments that now make up the foundation’s capital.

“I have neither inherited a fortune nor been driven by any real entrepreneurial spirit. I have however saved for the long term by investing in shares of companies and investment funds. But it has never been about speculation. Rather, I have found a form of investment that has suited me and my wife, and that has proved to provide decent financial returns.”

It all started with an equities investment course in 1961. Here, once a month Lars met like-minded people with the same commitment to the community, the Swedish economy and business world, and investing in financial securities. Slowly the group began to learn the basics of how the financial markets work. At first, the investments were modest, but as the couple’s personal finances improved, the value of the investments increased.

“The money that my wife and I have earned and been able to set aside, we have invested in shares. Early on I joined the Aktiespararna, an association for those invested in the Swedish stock market, which has been an invaluable resource for us over the years. I have focused almost exclusively on financially solid Swedish companies with sound management. Skanska, Volvo, Electrolux, Getinge, H&M and ASEA are a few examples of companies we have invested in over the years. Another successful strategy has been to remain calm and focused during financial crises and downturns. The market price of shares fluctuate, of course, but share indices have risen over time, with some years in the 1980s seeing 50% increases.”

When one hears Lars talk about his life, and his and his wife’s accumulation of wealth by investing, one realises that their real driving force has not been to accumulate wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth. Of course though their own well-being has been important.

“We’ve had a comfortable and privileged life, and have been fortunate to be able to afford things that gave us great pleasure. We have lived in a nice house with a large garden, driven decent cars, and holidayed on the continent every year.”

But as far as the personal assets we have accumulated are concerned, the primary motivation has been a genuine interest in the Swedish national economy and companies, and their possibilities and challenges.

“It hasn’t only been about earning more money. I have always found it exciting and personally rewarding to follow these companies, attend shareholders’ meetings and read their annual reports.”

Rapid course of the disease

As we all know, life can surprise us both positively and adversely. When Lars’ wife fell ill a few years ago, his interest in investing in the stock market naturally took a back seat. The diagnosis was unfortunately pancreatic cancer, an aggressive form that is difficult to detect and spreads rapidly. In Lars’s wife’s particular case, the progression of the disease happened all so suddenly that the possibility of recovery soon disappeared.

“This form of cancer is insidious in that it is diffuse and often mistaken for other symptoms, such as back pain or gall bladder problems. Then once it strikes, there is no possibility of reversing the course of events; the doctors say surgery is not an option.”

As the only family member, Lars followed the course of his wife’s illness at close proximity.

“My wife had a really hard time over the past eight months. One would think that with today’s modern medical care nobody would have to experience such pain, but that was the reality here. Unfortunately she was unable to eat and lost an extreme amount of weight. For a couple of months she received advanced care at home and for the last few weeks she received palliative care at St. Lars hospital here in Lund. To see someone you have loved and lived with for 56 years fade away like that is truly a devastating experience. One feels completely helpless.”

A new chapter of life

After the funeral and other practical matters that needed to be dealt with after the passing of his wife, the mourning process began. Lars began to think about how he wanted to live the rest of his life, what his core values and priorities should be, and how he would move on with his life. Today, his everyday life is filled with visiting friends, gardening, exercising at the gym and worshipping at church on the weekends.

“I read quite a lot, both magazines and literature, and have just recently become interested in psychology. I have found helpful inspiration in the crisis management books I have read.”

Once the idea of setting up a foundation began to germinate, it soon became clear that Lund University might be a suitable recipient. The background to this was that Lars’ family has lived in Lund for many generations along with that Lund University is widely respected for its medical research. In dialogue with the University’s Development Office and the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University, the form the foundation would take began to be crystallised.

“When a close family member has experienced all these terrible things, you want to try to help make a difference for others. Therefore it would be gratifying if the donation could be turned into actual research as soon as feasible. I of course know that new insights from research take time to develop. It is a long-term process.”

The newly established foundation demands some of his time, but Lars would rather not call the time commitment “work.”

“It gives so much back. With the foundation, I have the privilege of being invited to lectures and events organised by Lund University. For me, as a socially engaged individual, this is extremely rewarding – imagine how wonderful it is to gain an insight into the world of research, to get to meet and discuss with knowledgeable scientists, and to learn about the latest research findings and developments.”

Donation as an enabling factor

The Foundation’s first grant was awarded this spring. Five researchers were allocated some SEK 3 million. Kristina Åkesson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, is delighted with the funding and what it makes possible.

“I am enormously grateful for this very generous donation and I feel a great humility for the donor’s decision to give to medical research.”

The areas of pancreatic cancer, gastroenterology, and pain management are important medical issues that deserve further research.

“Pancreatic cancer is a particularly aggressive and a very difficult to treat form of cancer. Both gastrointestinal tract disorders and symptoms are a source of daily discomfort for people and have a negative impact on their quality of life. At present, we are not always able to explain what the causes are. The same applies to pain in all its forms, where there is a tremendous amount to learn about how best to alleviate it in each individual specific case,” notes Kristina Åkesson.

Footnote: * The name “Lars” is actually a pseudonym, as the donor prefers to remain anonymous.

Research projects awarded grants from the 2022 Foundation

Jan Marsal, The PRIMUS study – Predicting response to targeted therapies for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

Marcelo Rivano Fischer, Rehabilitering av barn och ungdomar med långvarig smärta [Rehabilitation of children and adolescents with long-term pain]

Karin Jirström, CHAMP: En observationsstudie av samspelet mellan tumörevolution och individfaktorer vid pankreascancer [An observational study of the interaction between tumour progression and individual factors in pancreatic cancer]

Bodil Ohlsson, Nervskada i tarmen – orsaker och samband mellan olika perifera nervskador [Intestinal nerve injury – causes and relationship between different peripheral nerve injuries]