SWEDISH BRAIN FOUNDATION
ANNA HEMLIN, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE SWEDISH BRAIN FOUNDATION
“We have to empower individuals, work with preventive measures – and eventually change society”
The Swedish Brain Foundation is a non-profit fundraising foundation without state funding that’s donated almost a billion Swedish kronor to Swedish brain research since 1994 through donations from individuals and companies. It focuses on four causes – fundraising for and funding brain research, knowledge-sharing and advocacy in the field – to fulfil its ambition of a society in which all brains reach their full potential, free from disease.
VITAL RESEARCH AIMING TO CHANGE SOCIETY
The Swedish Brain Foundation’s ambition is to create a society in which all brains achieve their full potential, free from disorders. When this ambition is achieved, our society will be a place where people live longer and enjoy better quality of life, where fewer people suffer or are affected by brain injuries, disorders and disabilities. Anna Hemlin has been Secretary General of the Foundation for seven years.
“I come from a marketing background, but I’m really driven by the privilege of working with brain research. Research is moving so quickly in many ways, with technological advances that help us understand more accurately how the body and its various disorders function, but it’s clear that brain research isn’t always prioritised as highly as research in other areas. I think it’s time for research into brain disorders to catch up!”
The Swedish Brain Foundation’s mission is to drive change focusing on brain research, and this is being done by funding research and share researchers’ insights to society, aiming to improve well-being and health in the long term. The Swedish Brain Foundation is also a vital platform where people affected and their family members can find out all about various diagnoses and get support to help them live with the diagnosis.
“It’s so important for researchers’ insights to be shared in society, in healthcare services, and to employers. This allows us to empower individuals, work with preventive measures – and eventually change society. Bearing in mind more than one in four Swedes suffers from depression at some point in their lives and up to a million people suffer from some form of addiction, you can see this field of research is important to society. Neurological diagnoses affect everybody at some point, whether people themselves or their loved ones.”
The Swedish Brain Foundation is reliant on people donating money to its causes by means of traditional fundraising or through bequests. There’s been a major shift in people’s willingness to donate in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Gifts bequeathed to us are our biggest source of income, and that’s been the case for a long time. We normally arrange meetings with 50 to 100 participants so that we can tell them how to leave a gift to us in their wills. Last year’s meetings had to take place online – and we managed to reach out to more than 2,000 people as a result! We were all very surprised and pleased, so we’ll carry on holding these meetings like this going forward.
“Apart from bequests, 2021 was a record year for fundraising for us. I think people stopped and reflected during the pandemic on the important things in life. And what’s more, it’s become clear just how important research is for society. We need it so that it can break down barriers and help us think along new lines. So I’d like to say a big thank you to all our donors!”
CONTINUOUS SUPPORT FOR RESEARCH
The record year has had a positive impact on the Swedish Brain Foundation’s opportunities to fund research in various areas. Awarding three-year research grants has been possible for the first time.
“Having the opportunity to award three-year research grants really makes a difference to our researchers. It provides them with another level of security and continuity in their work – and there’s no need for them to spend so much time applying for new grants. We also know that successful research into one diagnosis can result in success with other diagnoses, so this will have a ripple effect when it comes to many brain disorders.”
The importance of continuity is key to progress in research, so she’s grateful for the many years of support provided by Mellby Gård and Rune Andersson, particularly with regard to research into giant cell arteritis.
“Research into giant cell arteritis is incredibly important because relatively small numbers of people are diagnosed with it, but at the same time it causes a great deal of suffering for those affected. Not enough attention is paid to it, maybe precisely because it’s rare. Mellby Gård has given us a great deal of help in this regard. Rune Andersson is also personally committed, driven and curious about the progress of the research, and he also helps out with raising the profile of both the Swedish Brain Foundation and our research – a true ambasador.”
DEVISING A BRAIN IMPACT ANALYSIS
Looking ahead to 2022, Anna sees plenty of things to look forward to – perhaps most notably all the brain research advances that are underway in fields such as Alzheimer’s, mental health and addiction. The Swedish Brain Foundation is also working on a letter to the government in order to push for the implementation of a brain impact assessment that will culminate in a brain plan. The emphasis here is on the need to reform public systems so that they can be adapted more effectively to people’s varying needs.
“We really need a knowledge boost when it comes to brain disorders. Everything from how schools and healthcare services work and how we build our cities, to how to receive a correct diagnosis and what support is available to sufferers and their family members. Now it’s the brain’s turn – we need to focus on it!”