Integrative Molecular Phenotyping

KI News

Updated: 2 hours 13 min ago

Attempted suicide in the young related to dramatically reduced life expectancy

Thu, 14/12/2017 - 07:30
People who have been treated for attempted suicide or suicidal behaviour have a much shorter life expectancy and usually die of non-suicide-related causes, a new study from Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University published in the scientific journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica reports. “Suicide is, of course, very common in this vulnerable patient group, but a deeper analysis shows that the excess mortality is largely attributable to non-psychiatric diseases,” explains Jussi Jokinen, psychiatrist and professor at Umeå University and researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience. “We also found significant gender differences in life expectancy, especially in the younger patients.” Up to 18 years shorter life expectancy The researchers studied over 185,000 individuals in care for self-harming behaviour between 1970 and 2010. Their results show that 20-year-old men, after their first attempted suicide, had a remaining life expectancy that was a full 18 years shorter than the rest of the population; the corresponding figure for women was 11 years. For 50-year-olds who had made their first suicide attempt, the reduction in life expectancy for men and women was 10 and 8 years respectively. If the first suicide attempt was not made until the individual’s 70s, the reduction in remaining life expectancy was about 4 years for both sexes. By way of comparison, in Sweden in 2016, newborns have a life expectancy of 80.6 years (boys) and 84.1 years (girls). 50-year-olds have a remaining life expectancy of 31.9 years (men) and 34.9 years (women). Reveal a lack of equal treatment  The study shows that actual suicide caused a smaller proportion of deaths in those who had been admitted into care for attempted suicide or self-harming behaviour. A more common cause of death was disease. “Our results reveal a lack of equal treatment whereby psychiatric patients don’t seem to receive the care they need,” says principal investigator Dr Rickard Ljung, docent at Karolinska Institutet’s Institute of Environmental Medicine. “Our previous research has shown that psychiatric patients receive poorer treatment for their non-psychiatric disorders and diseases.” The study was financed by the Swedish Society of Medicine’s Söderström-König Foundation. Publication “Life expectancy after the first suicide attempt” Jussi Jokinen, Mats Talbäck, Maria Feychting, Anders Ahlbom & Rickard Ljung Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, online 14 December 2017

A majority of new students has KI as their first choice

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 13:16
A majority of new students at Karolinska Institutet has KI as their first choice. This was shown in a survey taken in in the autumn 2017. And the interest in studying at KI is consistently high compared with the average for universities and university colleges. “It is very gratifying to see that confidence in education at KI is still high,” says Annika Östman Wernerson, Dean of Education. What students are these, why do they choose to study at KI and what plans do they have for the future? These questions are answered in a student survey every other year at Karolinska Institutet, KI. This year's survey shows that 78 per cent of the students applied to KI as their first choice. In the last three years, the proportion doing this has increased by one per cent a year. As the reason for choosing KI, 70 per cent said that KI has the best education and 58 per cent said that KI has a good international reputation. “Confidence in education at KI has been increasing rather than decreasing,” says Annika Östman Wernerson, Dean of Education at KI. The survey has been taken since 1999, which means that trends over time can be seen, and according to Annika Östman Wernerson, this is important. “The survey is part of a total quality system. The idea is also that the results can be seen in relation to other evaluations, such as that which is made when students leave KI,” she says. KI adapts its information to students’ needs The results of the survey help KI to adapt its information to students’ needs, “We want to see where our students come from. Have they studied before, what is their socio-demographic background, were their parents born abroad? It is interesting to see how they found us, what their most important sources of information are,” Johanna Bäckström says, Head of the Student and Career Service Unit, Education Support Office. The survey shows that most of the students, 71 per cent, are women. The average age is 24.3, but there are great differences between programmes. The psychotherapists have the highest average age, 40.5, while the candidate programme in biomedicine has the youngest students, at 20.7. Just under a third, 29 per cent, were born abroad. This is the highest percentage since the survey began. “It is a very valuable thing that more foreign born students are applying for the programmes. Students from more varied backgrounds reflect society as a whole and can contribute to our work on diversity and internationalisation of education,” says Annika Östman Wernerson. Information from friends and family is important Many students come from an academic family: 66 per cent have one parent with an academic examination, while 36 per cent come from homes where both parents are academics. The website is the most important information channel for information about education at KI, but the survey shows that friends and family are also important.   “It is interesting that information from friends and family is so important. This may be because many of the students come from academic families. We can think about what information channels we can develop to broaden recruitment,” says Annika Östman Wernerson. Since the start of the 2000s it has become less common for students to take a summer job or gain some professional experience before studying. Around a third of this year’s students have done so. This sets some special demands on the education programmes and according to Annika Östman Wernerson it would be an advantage if more tried working in the area that they will be studying. “It is a general trend in all universities that we are seeing more drop-outs. Part of the reason for this may be that students did not really understand at the beginning what the education and work involves,” she says. Interest in research has declined In terms of the future, 45 per cent of the students were interested in studying abroad and 18 per cent were seriously considering working abroad. 23 per cent were planning a career in research. Interest in research has declined over the years the survey has been performed. Information from KI, the education and the students’ union scored well overall. But many pointed out in their comments that it was difficult to find KI’s website and the learning platform Ping Pong. “We will be replacing the learning platform. A new platform was procured just before the survey. We are also working on improving the websites that are aimed at students,” says Annika Östman Wernerson. The survey an invaluable resource according to the students' union It is valuable for the students’ union that there is a student survey. “We can find out who chose to study at KI and why they did so. That makes it easier to sell KI as a university and as a brand. The survey is also an invaluable resource for evaluating how new students are welcomed,” Pontus Dannberg says, Vice Chair of the Medical Students’ Union. The Medical Students’ Union helps to organise the introduction and get-together camp, popularly known as “kollot”, which was scored very highly by the students this year. As many as 89 per cent rated this as good or very good. Kollot was more appreciated than, for example, KI’s general welcome day, which also scored highly. But there are differences between the various programmes. For example, fewer speech therapists participated in kollot and those that did gave lower marks than the others. “This kind of thing is useful to know, so that we can improve how students are welcomed. Next time, we can see what we can do to attract more participants form the speech therapy programme,” Pontus Dannberg says. He also believes that KI needs to work on the one-sided gender distribution seen in the results. The medical programme had an even gender distribution, but the other programmes have a majority of women. “Those who study to become midwives, speech therapists and nurses are almost exclusively women. This may have its roots in an old world view and assessment of who does what kind of job. It is sad to see that KI has not succeeded in countering the uneven gender distribution in these programmes.” Text: Ann Patmalnieks About the student survey 2017 The student survey, also known as the beginners’ survey, has been performed since 1999. Questionnaires are given out during lessons. This year’s survey was completed by students who began in autumn 2017 and applied for educational programmes in Spring 2017, a total of 864 students on 17 programmes, including three continuation programmes. The results are based on the responses of the 802 students on beginners’ programmes. The survey has also been completed by students on seven master’s programmes. These responses are reported separately. Heavy demand for Karolinska Institutet Interest in studying on Karolinska Institutet’s educational programmes is consistently high compared with the average for universities and university colleges. This is shown by statistics from the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ). Application demand is measured in the number of first-choice applicants per place. For example there were 12.6 first-choice applicants for every place on the medical programme before autumn 2017*, compared with an average of 7.1 for all other educational institutions. One programme that stands out as having a lower application demand than others is the psychology programme. Application demand for some of KI’s educational programmes. The figure in brackets is for all universities. Occupational therapist 2.3 (2.1) Audiology 1.8 (1.4) Midwifery 4.7 (4.3) Biomedical analyst 1.6 (1.2) Physiotherapy 5.9 (6.4) Speech therapy 2.6 (1.9) Medicine (doctor) 12.6 (7.1) Psychology 7.1 (10) Psychotherapy 6.8 (3.9) Radiology nursing 2.3 (2.0) Nursing 3.9 (2.6) Dental hygienist 6.9 (4.0) Dentistry 5.0 (4.7) Comment: The application demand for the above courses is somewhat lower than the previous year, both at KI and nationally. The University and Higher Education Council, UKÄ states the good labor market situation as a reason why the number of applicants has decreased. By autumn 2017, the number of applicants in Sweden decreased by 2.2 per cent compared with the year before. The total number of applicants increased until autumn 2014. Thereafter, the number of applicants has decreased from year to year. *Statistics from the University and Higher Education Council for the spring 2018 are not yet complete, therefore statistics from HT2017 are reported above.

KI welcomes government proposal for reformed medical programme

Mon, 11/12/2017 - 15:16
The government is proposing one year of “basic residential training” for medical students and that the medical programme be extended to six years. A licence to practise will be issued straight after graduation and the current system of “AT” residential training will be discontinued. “This will be a good opportunity to review and develop the medicine study programme at KI and also adapt it to the needs of healthcare in the future,” says Annika Östman Wernerson, Dean of Higher Education at KI. A completely new and extended medical programme after which a licence to practise will be issued straight after graduation and instead of intern employment [AT], basic residential training [bastjänstgöring] will be incorporated into the study programme. This can be reality for the students who start studying medicine as of around the year 2020. The proposal regarding basic residential training, which is intended to be an independent initial part of specialist training, was sent out by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs for consultation on 22 November. The government's proposal was presented in more detail at the InFuturum conference on 23 November. The focus of basic residential training will be on primary care and emergency care. It has not been regulated exactly how long basic residential training will last; normally, it will take one year but it could also be done faster. It will be possible for a person with previous experience to be given credit for that. According to the proposal, knowledge of psychiatry will be “taken into particular account”. The ability to cooperate with others will be important and also to constantly strive to make improvements. In addition, students will practise taking decisions and medical science and professional training will be integrated throughout the study programme. All skills will be assessed, not only knowledge. Another way the medicine study programme will be changed is that there will be more clinical assessments and fewer written exams. “I can see many positive aspects in the proposal, for example, a strong emphasis on the importance of future doctors having different skills and the importance of collaboration with society, other professions and patients. Other important elements are the use of pedagogical methods that activate the student and a review of examination methods," says Annika Östman Wernerson, Dean of Higher Education at KI. Basic residential training will be introduced if the new, reformed six-year medicine study programme comes about. Medical training has previously focused on acute illness processes but now there will be a stronger emphasis on chronic illness processes. The medical students need to be where the patients are Next year, the new highly specialised intensive care emergency centre will open at Karolinska University Hospital where only the most seriously ill patients will be treated. This means that when patients with less serious diagnoses are treated at other hospitals, many diagnoses will no longer be represented at Karolinska University Hospital. Moreover, the number of patients at the highly specialised intensive care emergency centre is expected to be low. In order for medical students to get the right training, the study programme must now be organised differently. “This will be a good opportunity to review and develop the medicine study programme at KI and also adapt it to the needs of healthcare in the future. Our students need to be where the patients are. That is why primary care is an important arena and we hope that the academic specialist centres in Stockholm will play a prominent role in the study programmes at KI,” says Annika Östman Wernerson. The extension of the medical programme is also mentioned in the government’s autumn budget. SEK 9 million will be invested during 2018 which is the equivalent of 40 student places distributed among the universities that offer medical training. It is unclear how many places KI will be given but when the Board of Higher Education at KI met at the end of October, a plan for increasing the number of places by four was presented. Text: Maja Lundbäck New education places at KI with more funding The government’s autumn budget includes several major investments in education. In addition to an earmarked increase of the medical programme, KI will also be given substantially more funding with no restrictions regarding how the money is used. At a meeting on 25 October, the Board of Higher Education at KI presented a plan for how the funding will be distributed. The first step will be to increase, as of 2018, the number of places for new students on: The Occupational Therapy programme: 8 extra places The Biomedical Laboratory Science programme: 10 extra places The Physiotherapy programme: 10 extra places The Medical programme: 4 extra places The Optometry programme: 3 extra places

Getting clockwise at the Nobel lectures

Mon, 11/12/2017 - 08:16
It was a packed Aula Medica that listened to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young as they delivered their Nobel lectures. After expressing gratitude at the attention their work has received, the trio took the audience on a scientific journey through time to role models known and unknown, fruit flies and night owls.  “I’m going to make some remarks having to do with gratitude,” said Jeffrey Hall, who, dressed in a suit and cap, held the first of the three Nobel lectures. Karolinska Institutet’s vice-chancellor, Ole Petter Ottersen, and Professor Juleen Zierath, member of the Nobel Committee for physiology or medicine, welcomed and described the three Nobel laureates’ discoveries about the workings of our internal clock. But Jeffrey Hall said little about his own achievements. Instead, he turned back the clock and took the audience on a journey through the family tree of scientific forebears that had made his research possible. One invited him in to speak, as a newly-fledged researcher, at a conference in the 1970s; another was a master at discovering interesting fruit-fly variants, whose genetic descendents still dart around the researchers’ laboratories to this day. A third predecessor researched for years without publishing a word, but whose articles, when he did eventually deliver, earned him a Nobel Prize. Jeffrey Hall also praised all unsung “AIs” (Actual Investigators), the hard-working colleagues who unlike PIs (Principal Investigators) rarely get any credit for the discoveries they help to make.   When Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young started working together, it was a merging of personal chemistry and genetic knowledge. At last they were able to identify the genes and proteins that give our cells a circadian rhythm. “It came out better than we intended, at least from the beginning,” said Professor Emeritus Hall. After having raised his cap to his forerunners, he declared that this year’s Nobel Prize has two more recipients. “One of them should be the little flies, because they have created massive amounts of biological knowledge, going back more than a hundred years of time,” he said. He went on to claim that the phenomenon itself, biological rhythms, should also be awarded a prize, expressing his fascination at how biological systems contain tiny clocks that keep track of night and day. “I’m done… well I am really done in life as well. If there has been any attention, I thank you for it,” he said, drawing much laughter and applause. Circadian rhythms are found everywhere in nature Michael Rosbash said that he had been speechless since 2 October, when he was notified about the prize, but assured the audience that the condition would not affect him today. He then described how circadian rhythms are found everywhere in nature, the oldest known being found in cyanobacteria, which although they seem to have evolved independently of those in plants and animals, obey the same basic principles. Something that had long puzzled scientists was how the feedback loop that involves a protein called Period and that gives the clock its rhythms actually works. There were many possible explanations, but Michael Rosbash had a bet with Michael Young that the regulation occurred at a genetic level. After much research, it turned out that his hypothesis was right. “He paid his debt and we had a lovely dinner together with our wives,” he said. It eventually transpired that the inner clock works in the same way in mammals, even if some of the components differ. We also know today that the human body contains a wide variety of time-controlled molecules, most of which seem to derive their rhythm from the basic clock mechanism described by the laureates. “50 percent of our genes are under circadian control,” explained Professor Rosbash. That he happened to be the one who managed to make the Nobel-winning discoveries is, he said, down to tenacity, a little knowledge and a lot of luck. He then showed the audience a list of important “rhythm and fly people” and of “yeast people”, one of whom was his wife. "My view of science is that it is a very romantic profession - you never know what you will discover and each day is an adventure,” he said, and read a love ode to a fruit fly. All tissues in the body contain biological clocks Last up was Michael Young, who opened with a series of images illustrating circadian rhythms: a flower opening and closing, a hamster who is active at the same time every day, even in darkness, and a map of hundreds of time-controlled fruit fly genes. All tissues in the body contain biological clocks that are normally set by the light. But sometimes, such as when we travel, the clocks fall out of sync which each other and their environment. They generally become reset after a while, but a defective internal clock makes some people suffer from a kind of chronic jet lag. “We can think of these individuals as extreme night owls,” he said, and showed a graph of the fragmentary sleep pattern of an individual with delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD). By mapping the genes of a person with DSPD and his/her family members, Professor Young has recently demonstrated that the condition is caused by a mutation of the CRY1 gene, which destroys the clock’s sensitivity to extraneous time signals in the form of light. His subsequent studies have shown that the mutation is common. Professor Young concluded by stating that knowledge of the internal clock gives scientists new openings into researching exactly how sleep and the circadian rhythm are connected to health. “A variety of metabolic and psychiatric disorders are often said to be associated with disordered sleep, but it has been difficult to establish causal relationships,” he explained. “We should now be able test whether particular sleep mutations extend to other medical problems.” Text: Ola Danielsson Watch the Nobel lectures The whole film with all the lectures 2017 Nobel Lectures in Physiology or Medicine   Jeffrey C. Hall Title: The Little Flies: Multifaceted Basic Research Coming Out Better than Intended Nobel Lecture: Jeffrey C. Hall, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017   Michael Rosbash Title: The Circadian Clock, Transcriptional Feedback and the Regulation of Gene Expression Nobel Lecture: Michael Rosbash, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2017   Michael W. Young Title: Time Travels: A 40 Year Journey from Drosophila's Clock Mutants to Human Circadian Disorders Nobel Lecture: Michael W. Young, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017

This year’s secret Nobel after party is organised by KI students

Fri, 08/12/2017 - 15:49
Once the final notes have rung out across the Golden Hall, it is time for the guests of the Nobel Banquet to experience a legendary event: Students' Nobel Nightcap. Top secret, as usual, but we can reveal one small detail... For over a year, 170 KI students have worked to invite royalty, Nobel laureates and a total of 1,200 guests to “the most magical night of the year”. It’s not for nothing that the Students’ Nobel NightCap after the Nobel Banquet has been referred to as the world’s coolest after party.  “I look forward to the guests’ arrival, when we open up the doors and everyone can see what we have worked so hard for and marvel at how well it turned out,” says Johan Wallin, who is active in the party planning group and on his tenth semester of medical studies.  A top secret theme permeates everything from food and drink to entertainment, and each room has its own sub-theme.  “Last time the party was held at KI, the theme was ‘around the world’ and all the rooms were different countries and parts of the world. One room was Japan. An entire wall had been painted with Tokyo’s underground map and sushi and saki were served on tap,” explains Johan. The planning group really goes all out. The students’ union building has been repainted inside and new walls have been put up. The event promises something bombastic, student-inspired and fanciful. Johan reveals just one detail: A gigantic wall consisting entirely of roses.   “We hope that people will go home feeling absolutely wowed. What happens at the party stays at the party. No cameras allowed. But there will be photo booths. Who would Johan most like to take a selfie with?  “Michael Young and his team. They have made such amazing discoveries!” Text: Ebba Arnborg Since 1978, the student unions at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University, Stockholm School of Economics and Karolinska Institutet have taken turns to organise the Students’ Nobel NightCap.

Family members without inherited mutation have increased risk of melanoma

Fri, 08/12/2017 - 08:00
In families who carry certain inherited mutations that increase the risk for melanoma, members who do not carry the mutation also have an increased risk of melanoma, a study from Karolinska Institutet published in Genetics in Medicine reports. The phenomenon, which is called phenocopy, could result from other shared risk-enhancing genes or environmental factors within the families. Malignant melanoma of the skin is one of the fastest increasing cancer types in the West. The main risk factors for melanoma are UV light exposure and hereditary factors. It is therefore relatively common for the afflicted to have family members with the disease. Inherited mutations of the tumour suppressor gene CDKN2A are the strongest known risk factors for familial melanoma and mutations in this gene also increase the risk of other cancers. Children, siblings or parents of mutation carriers have a 50-50 chance of also having the mutation, which can be identified with a gene test. Swedish and American families The present study included Swedish and American families with inherited CDKN2A mutations. The researchers studied whether family members who have not inherited the mutation have any higher than normal risk of developing melanoma or other cancers. Melanoma, but no other cancers, was more common in the non-carriers in these families compared to the normal population. The phenomenon whereby non-carriers of a specific mutation copy the phenotype (in this case melanoma) from their mutation-carrying relatives is known as phenocopy. “Phenocopy can be caused by other risk-modifying genes or exposure patterns that increase the probability of the specific phenotype manifesting itself,” says the study’s first author Hildur Helgadottir, researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Oncology-Pathology. Certain pigmentation variants increase the risk Previous studies have shown that people with the mutation who also have certain pigmentation variants run an even higher risk of melanoma. Even though the CDKN2A mutation should be present in all populations, it has almost exclusively been identified in families with a Caucasian heritage. “This suggests that dark-skinned people with this mutation probably don’t develop melanoma as often and are therefore not tested for this specific mutation, presumably because they lack the risk-modifying pigmentation variants that increase the risk of melanoma,” says Dr Helgadottir. Should be informed about the risks The researchers believe that such pigmentation variants also contribute to a higher melanoma risk in the family members who do not carry the mutation. “Our results suggest that family members that test negatively for their family’s CDKN2A mutation should be informed that they still can have an increased risk of developing melanoma. They should be advised to avoid sunburn, be aware of any change in their moles, and some might even need to be monitored by a dermatologist,” says Dr Helgadottir. The study was conducted by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and colleagues at Lund University and the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH). It was financed from several sources, including the Swedish Cancer Society, the Cancer Research Funds of Radiumhemmet and the NIH. The researchers have declared no potential conflicts of interest. Publication “Phenocopies in melanoma-prone families with germline CDKN2A mutations” Hildur Helgadottir, Håkan Olsson, Margaret A. Tucker, Xiaohong R. Yang, Veronica Höiom, Alisa M. Goldstein Genetics in Medicine, online 7 December 2017, doi: 10.1038/GIM.2017.216

Distinguished Professor Grants to five KI researchers

Thu, 07/12/2017 - 12:51
Five researchers at Karolinska Institutet have been approved Distinguished Professor Grant by the Swedish Research Council, each of approximately 3.5-5 million SEK annualy for ten years. In total almost half a billion SEK will be allocated to ten researchers in Sweden. The aim of the Distinguished Professors Grant programme is to create conditions for the most distinguished researchers to conduct long-term, innovative research with great potential to achieve scientific breakthroughs. The five Distinguished Professors from Karolinska Institutet Henrik Ehrsson, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience Project title: Ego experiences: Experimental studies and biopsychological processes [Jagupplevelse: experimentella studier och biopsykologiska processer]     Abdel El Manira, Professor of Neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience Project title: The organization of neuronal networks that control motor movements [Organisationen av neuronala nätverk som styr motoriska rörelser]     Ulf Eriksson, Professor of Vascular Biology at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics Project title: Studies of vascular diseases and underlying mechanisms [Studier av vaskulära sjukdomar och underliggande mekanismer]     Gunilla Karlsson Hedestam, Professor of Vaccine Research at the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology Project title: Genetic studies of antibody diversity [Genetiska studier av antikroppsdiversitet]     Rickard Sandberg, Professor of Molecular Geneticsprofessor at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology Project title: Understanding gene regulation by massive parallel genomic analysis of individual cells [Förstå genreglering genom massiv parallell genomisk analys av enskilda celler]    

Alcohol-abuse drug Antabuse kills cancer cells

Thu, 07/12/2017 - 12:08
A new study in Nature by an international team including researchers from Karolinska Institutet, reports that the alcohol-abuse drug Antabuse is effective against cancer. The study also identifies a potential mechanism of action for the anti-tumour effect. As developing new cancer drugs is costly and time-consuming, repurposing drugs that are already approved to treat other diseases is a promising alternative. Disulfiram (Antabuse) is a cheap, safe and long-established alcohol-aversion drug that provokes symptoms like sickness, eczema, headache and tachycardia when combined with alcohol. In collaboration with an international research team in five countries, Jiri Bartek, professor of cancer biology at Karolinska Institutet and senior researchers at the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen, studied disulfiram’s potential as an anti-cancer drug. The researchers combined experimental studies of the mechanisms behind the anti-tumour effect with epidemiological analyses based on the records of cancer patients across Denmark. Lower risk of death from cancer “We discovered that patients who were prescribed disulfiram for alcohol dependency and continued taking the drug after they had received a cancer diagnosis had a lower risk of death from cancer than those who stopped taking the drug at their cancer diagnosis”, says Professor Jiri Bartek at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet. The anti-cancer effect of Antabuse has been shown before, but it has remained unclear how the drug affects the cancer cells. Through laboratory experiments, the team found that in mice and in the human body, disulfiram becomes metabolised into a molecule that causes a naturally occurring protein called NPL4 to clump together with its partner, the body’s p97 enzyme. This process ‘freezes’ and thereby functionally disables the otherwise very mobile and tumour growth-supporting NPL4-p97 duo, resulting in cancer cell death. “Our study fills an important knowledge gap regarding the anti-cancer mechanism of disulfiram and paves the way for future clinical trials”, says Jiri Bartek. The study received funding from many different sources, including the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Cancer Society. Publication “Alcohol-abuse drug disulfiram targets cancer via p97 segregase adaptor NPL4” Zdenek Skrott, Martin Mistrik, Klaus Kaae Andersen, Søren Friis, Dusana Majera, Jan Gursky, Tomas Ozdian, Jirina Bartkova, Zsofia Turi, Pavel Moudry, Marianne Kraus, Martina Michalova, Jana Vaclavkova, Petr Dzubak, Ivo Vrobel, Pavla Pouckova, Jindrich Sedlacek, Andrea Miklovicova, Anne Kutt, Jing Li, Jana Mattova, Christoph Driessen, Q. Ping Dou, Jørgen Olsen, Marian Hajduch, Boris Cvek, Raymond J. Deshaies & Jiri Bartek Nature, online 6 December 2017, doi: 10.1038/nature25016

Genes behind higher education linked to lower risk of Alzheimer’s

Thu, 07/12/2017 - 09:02
Using genetic information, researchers at Karolinska Institutet provide new evidence that higher educational attainment is strongly associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The study is published in The BMJ. The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are largely unknown and treatment trials have been disappointing. This has led to increasing interest in the potential for reducing the disease by targeting modifiable risk factors. Many studies have found that education and vascular risk factors are associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but whether these factors actually cause Alzheimer’s has been difficult to disentangle. Mendelian randomisation is a method that uses genetic information to make causal inferences between potential risk factors and disease. If a gene with a specific impact on the risk factor is also associated with the disease, then this indicates that the risk factor is a cause of the disease. Analysed more than 900 genetic variants Susanna C. Larsson, associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet, and colleagues in Cambridge and Munich, used the Mendelian randomisation approach to assess whether education and different lifestyle and vascular risk factors are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The analysis included more than 900 genetic variants previously shown to be associated with the risk factors. Comparisons of these genetic variants among 17 000 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 37 000 healthy controls revealed a strong association for genetic variants that predict education. “Our results provide the strongest evidence so far that higher educational attainment is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, improving education may substantially decrease the number of people developing this devastating disease,” says Susanna C. Larsson. Cognitive reserve could be one explanation According to the researchers, one possible explanation for this link is ‘cognitive reserve’, which refers to the ability to recruit and use alternative brain networks or structures not normally used in order to compensate for brain ageing. “Evidence suggests that education helps improve brain networks and thus could increase this reserve,” says Susanna C. Larsson. The study was financed by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Swedish Brain Foundation. Publication “Modifiable pathways in Alzheimer’s disease: Mendelian randomisation analysis” Susanna C Larsson, Matthew Traylor, Rainer Malik, Martin Dichgans, Stephen Burgess, Hugh S Markus; for the CoSTREAM Consortium, on behalf of the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project. The BMJ, online 7 December 2017

Find Christmas gifts and meet the authors at KI’s own book fair

Wed, 06/12/2017 - 15:59
A few questions to Hedda Langeby, project coordinator of Karolinska Institutet’s alumni activities, who is currently organising a book fair in the Aula Medica building on 14 December. KI is organising its own book fair just in time for Christmas. Tell us, what’s the plan? “There are lots of researchers and teachers at KI who write popular science books in the field of health and medicine. Furthermore, we still have quite a large stock of books from our own now dormant publishing house Karolinska Institutet University Press. But there will also be other publishers at the book fair, so we’re hoping for quite a large selection of books.” Ideal for picking up Christmas gifts, then? “Yes, I really think so. We’ll be offering our own books at good prices and have asked the other publishers involved to be as generous as possible.  We’ll also be holding interviews on stage with some authors, and other authors will also be there to answer readers’ questions and sign books. So if you’re lucky, you can pick up a signed copy of your Christmas gift book.” You usually work with KI’s alumni activities, so is the book fair only open to former KI students? “No, not at all, everyone’s welcome. Students, employees, alumni and anyone else who happens to be passing the Aula Medica on 14 December. Apart from books and short interviews with authors, we’ll be holding a lottery and other activities on the subject of medicine and health. There is also a café in the foyer for anyone who feels like a coffee and a cake.” I assume you’ve already sneaked a look at the selection available at the book fair, is there a book you can recommend? “I’m curious about a book called ‘Hjärnan’, so I was thinking of buying that as a Christmas gift for myself. I’m also looking forward to hearing Emma Frans talk about how we are taking a more critical view of alleged facts in the media flow.” Text: Katarina Sternudd (in translation from Swedish) What: Book fair in the field of medicine and health When: Thursday 14 December 2017, 15:00-18:00. Where: The foyer, level 2, Aula Medica, Nobels väg 6, Campus Solna More about the programme in the KI calendar

New ethical review agency in place from 2019

Wed, 06/12/2017 - 12:22
Research projects are subject to ethical review to protect people who are involved in the research. The Swedish Government now wants to create uniformity in ethical review throughout the country and has proposed a new government agency for this purpose, which will be in place on 1 January 2019, writes Dagens Nyheter. The Ethical Review Board in Stockholm is one of six regional ethical review boards in Sweden, and is based at the Karolinska Institutet’s Solna Campus. In a bill to the Parliament, the Swedish Government now wants to replace these regional boards with a single new national authority. This national authority will still have six regional boards with equivalent routines who will make decisions on individual cases. But from 2019, the cases will be distributed from the central authority, which means that it no longer needs to be the closest ethical review board geographically that reviews the case. Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson has said to Dagens Nyheter that the advantage of the new organisation is that equivalent evaluations of ethical review applications can now be done throughout the country, and that disqualification situations can be avoided by assigning evaluations to an ethical review board without any personal connections between the researcher and persons on the board. The organisation will be in place on 1 January 2019.

Swetox receives European prize for more humane animal testing method

Wed, 06/12/2017 - 12:11
Two colleagues at Swetox, a national research centre in chemicals, health and environment, have been awarded € 6,000 for having developed a new more humane method of performing blood tests on rats and mice. The prize is presented by EPAA (the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing), which is a collaboration between the European Commission and the largest companies in the pharmaceuticals and chemicals sectors. Mattias Öberg, a lecturer at the Institute of Environmental Medicine and Swetox, works together with his prize-winning colleague at the Unit of Toxicological Sciences at Karolinska Institutet, which constitutes a key part of Swetox. He describes in his blog how during the course of their work at the Unit they have developed a new approach that means blood tests can be performed on laboratory animals without the animals needing to be strapped down, something which until now has been common practice. The prize-giving ceremony took place in Brussels on 22 November. Swetox – the Swedish Toxicology Sciences Research Center – is a collaboration between eleven Swedish universities in toxicological research and training.

KI researchers the originators of the award-winning life-saving app

Wed, 06/12/2017 - 12:03
How can we identify a system that recruits voluntary life-savers in the local environment? This question was the firing shot for a research project at Karolinska Institutet which resulted in the SMS Livräddare (Life Saver) app. Today the app has 38,000 experts in cardiopulmonary resuscitation linked to it, and ready to save lives. The research project is now being rewarded with the Athena Award, Sweden’s biggest prize in clinical research. Leif Svensson, Professor at KI and working at the Centre for Resuscitation Science where Jacob Hollenberg is head and principal manager, was the person who took the initiative for the research project SMS Livräddning. The project, which is now being rewarded with the Athena Award, has been headed by Mattias Ringh, specialist doctor at the cardiac clinic at Södersjukhuset and a researcher at the Centre for Resuscitation Science. The idea behind the app is that those who have registered on it and find themselves within a radius of 500 metres from someone who is suffering from cardiac arrest receives a text message on their mobile from the alarm centre at the same time that the ambulance service is informed. Those who receive a text message can quickly get to the person affected and start cardiopulmonary resuscitation before the ambulance arrives.

Peter Ueda wins Researchers’ Grand Prix 2017

Wed, 06/12/2017 - 11:39
Peter Ueda, postdoc at the Department of Medicine, Solna, Karolinska Institutet, has won the Researchers’ Grand Prix 2017 and is therefore the Swedish champion in making a four-minute presentation of his own research. During his presentation, Peter Ueda explained how he uses large data files containing millions of observations to discover how treatments for a wide range of illnesses can be improved. Peter Ueda also carries out research into the side-effects of pharmaceuticals and how well they actually work, as well as finding new ways to identify patients with a high or low risk of illness (for example myocardial infarction) or adverse reactions, so that treatment can be tailored to the individual. Congratulations on winning the Researchers’ Grand Prix! How does it feel? “It feels good,” says Peter Ueda. Why did you take part in the competition? “I was contacted by the press office at KI, who wanted me to be involved, so I accepted. I usually say yes to things. Unless I say no.” What was the most difficult part? “Being nuanced and restrained, while at the same time not holding back so much that you lose your flow.” What was the most fun? “Drawing pictures. I love drawing. The medical profession is cool, but it’s very much algorithm-based and there aren’t many opportunities to express yourself. And you never get the chance to be ironic, which I had now. And it was fun to work with the skilled and enthusiastic organisers.”   What do you think the prize will lead to? “I’m not a big fan of the trend for us researchers to sell our ideas and visions like a group of inspirational speakers. The Americanised form of presentation isn’t quite compatible with the scientific approach, where you have to be critical and constantly reassess assumptions and hypotheses. I tried to strike a tone in which I avoided being boring while still not being another Steve Jobs. I hope to be able to continue to develop this.” What are your top tips to other researchers who want to be better at presenting their research? “Question the format. Is a lecture really the best thing to do, given what you want to achieve? For example, there’s a lot of evidence to show that listening to lectures isn’t very effective if it’s about teaching, so maybe you should use some other form of communication. “Script first, then the pictures. In this age of PowerPoint, the usual approach is to start by creating slides and then having the presentation consist of you talking about the slides. Start instead with a script and then make pictures to support your narrative. A picture plus a narrator’s voice are the same components as in a documentary film, and no editor makes the film first and then thinks about what to say about the pictures! “Slides are free. You’re often given an instruction to make a presentation of ‘no more than X slides’. This isn’t logical, as the limiting resource is time and not images, after all they’re free. Divide up the content into as many pictures as are required to help people understand what you’re talking about.” During the Researchers’ Grand Prix, researchers compete to present their work in the most entertaining and informative manner possible in only four minutes. The winner is decided by the audience together with a panel of expert judges.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids linked to reduced allergy risk

Tue, 05/12/2017 - 15:34
New research from Karolinska Institutet reveals that high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in children’s blood are associated with a reduced risk of asthma or rhinitis at the age of 16 years. The study is published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Allergic diseases such as asthma and rhinitis are common and often debut in childhood. Today we know that disease risk is affected by both hereditary and environmental factors. To date, the present study is the largest to investigate the association between levels of long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood and subsequent development of asthma and other allergic diseases. This study was conducted as part of the Swedish birth cohort BAMSE, and is based on analyses of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in blood samples from 940 children. Less likely to develop asthma or rhinitis The results show that children who had higher blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids at the age of 8 years were less likely to have developed asthma or rhinitis by the age of 16 years. High levels of an omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid were associated with a reduced risk of asthma and rhinitis at 16. Among children with asthma or rhinitis at the age of 8 years, higher blood levels of arachidonic acid were associated with a higher probability of being symptom-free at age 16 years. “Since allergies often debut during childhood it is of particular interest to study if children’s environment and lifestyle affect the development of these diseases,” says study leader Anna Bergström, researcher at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet. Some fatty acids must be sourced from foods Polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential to life, and the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that the body is unable to produce itself must be sourced from foods such as nuts and certain vegetable oils; and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in oily fish. “These new results and those of a previous study we carried out support the current dietary guidelines to eat fish two to three times a week and to vary between oily and lean fish,” says Dr Anna Bergström. The study was financed by the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (Formas), the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte), the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association, the Swedish Heart and Lung Foundation, Stockholm County Council and the European Commission. Publication “Polyunsaturated fatty acids in plasma at 8 years and subsequent allergic disease” Magnusson J, Ekström S, Kull I, Håkansson N, Nilsson S, Wickman M, Melén E, Risérus U, Bergström A. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, online 5 December 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.09.023

New approach to predict respiratory allergy in early childhood

Mon, 04/12/2017 - 11:27
A new study in EBioMedicine by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the Medical University of Vienna, Austria suggests that immune response in early childhood to a handful of allergen molecules can predict the onset of allergic rhinitis and asthma in adolescence. These findings could accelerate the development of preventive strategies and novel treatments for respiratory allergy in children. Allergic diseases belong to the most common causes of chronic illness and create a high burden of suffering due to the great impairment in quality of life. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) sensitisation to allergens has been shown to be associated with increased risk of allergic diseases and asthma. In a new study, researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the Medical University of Vienna have used a novel approach to identify which specific allergens can predict the transition from IgE sensitisation in early childhood to the development of respiratory allergy later in life. Studied more than 100 allergens Using a large panel of micro-arrayed allergens, the researchers analysed IgE reactivity to more than 100 allergen molecules from more than 40 allergen sources. The study included data from 786 children from the Swedish birth cohort BAMSE, and 248 children from the UK birth cohort MAAS. A molecular signature of IgE against a handful of allergens at ages 3–5 years predicted respiratory allergy with more than 90 per cent probability up to adolescence in the two geographically separate populations. In the Swedish population, the identified risk allergens came from peanut, birch, grass and cat, and in the British population from dust mite, grass and cat. “Our results show that only a few regional allergen molecules are likely to be of importance for predicting the onset and persistency of respiratory allergic diseases and should be the focus for preventive strategies and targets for novel therapies”, says Professor Magnus Wickman at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet. According to the researchers, the findings suggest generalisability of the data across populations and a possibility of developing individualised risk prediction charts for allergic respiratory diseases. These tests could potentially be used by paediatricians or physicians who see children at a young age. The BAMSE project is an ongoing longitudinal, population-based prospective birth cohort including more than 4,000 children born between 1994 and 1996 in Stockholm, Sweden. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet are currently conducting the eighth follow-up of the project as the participants have reached an age of 22–24 years. Might be able to prevent chronic disease “Respiratory diseases that start in childhood or adolescence often last for life, and birth cohorts are essential for understanding the life course of allergy. We might be able to prevent childhood allergy and asthma from becoming chronic severe diseases in adulthood if the children are identified and receive effective treatment at an early stage”, says Professor Magnus Wickman. The study was made in collaboration with European researchers within the EU-funded programme MeDALL (Mechanisms of the Development of Allergy). It was supported by research grants from the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Foundation, the Stockholm County Council (ALF), the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Heart-Lung Foundation, the Swedish Cancer and Allergy Foundation, the King Gustaf V 80th Birthday Foundation, the Hesselman Foundation, The Konsul Th C Bergh Foundation, the Magnus Bergvall Foundation, Swedish research council for health, working life and welfare, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme MeDALL. Publication “Detection of IgE reactivity to a handful of allergen molecules in early childhood predicts respiratory allergy in adolescence” Magnus Wickman, Christian Lupinek, Niklas Andersson, Danielle Belgrave, Anna Asarnoj, Marta Benet, Mariona Pinart, Sandra Wieser, Judith Garcia-Aymerich, Alexandra Baar, Göran Pershagen, Angela Simpson, Inger Kull, Anna Bergström, Erik Melén, Carl Hamsten, Josep M. Antó, Jean Bousquet, Adnan Custovic, Rudolf Valenta, Marianne van Hage EBioMedicine, online 14 November 2017

Nobel Prize-winning method is being refined for tissue

Mon, 04/12/2017 - 09:51
On 10 December it is once again time for the Nobel Prize ceremony. One of the three researchers awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is Jacques Dubochet, who pioneered a flash freezing method for biomolecules that avoids the forming of ice crystals in water. The cryo-electron microscopy technique provides us with detailed high-resolution images of molecular structures. The Nobel Prize-winning method was taken to Karolinska Institutet by Jacques Dubochet’s colleague and friend Lars Norlén, to be applied to biological tissue. What were your first thoughts when you heard about Jacques Dubochet’s Nobel Prize? – It felt fantastic, partly because he thoroughly deserves it. It is confirmation of the value of the methods and techniques. Jacques Dubochet and I worked together when I was doing my postdoc with him between 1999 and 2004. We have worked extremely closely and remain good friends. After my postdoc, I returned to Karolinska Institutet and built an identical lab here. Jacques Dubochet is now retired but I still discuss all of our articles with him. What is he like, as a researcher and a person? – Jacques Dubochet is a classic example of the original researcher, stubbornly running his own race with extreme stamina, way beyond the mainstream. He has always worked in small groups and has been able to follow his own path. I consider him to be a true original in a purely positive and genuine manner, incredibly dedicated, enthusiastic, warm and friendly. He is not a domineering personality and has never maintained a high profile. How is cryo-electron microscopy used at KI? – Our cryo-electron microscopy laboratory is located at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, CMB, where we have a team of three researchers studying the skin barrier. It was here at CMB that we implemented the technique as per Jacque’s model and later refined it. Flash freezing proteins in solution, allowing us to study individual molecules in test tubes, has had enormous success worldwide and the technique is also currently being used at SciLifeLab. However, Jacque’s own work in recent years was mostly aimed at developing the technique for applications with cells and tissues in their natural environment, rather than in test tubes. And this is what myself and my two colleagues are working on. How do you go about studying the skin? – We flash freeze tissue samples taken from the skin, normally a small piece of skin from the forearm. We then place the skin in liquid nitrogen, flash freezing it so quickly that the water in the tissue doesn’t have time to form ice crystals. In order to succeed, we need to achieve a temperature of -140°C within 20 milliseconds. This holds everything in its exact position and the water becomes solid while maintaining its liquid form, much like if one were to solidify all of the water in an aquarium with all of the fish remaining exactly where they were. Image resolution in cryo-electron microscopy is related to sample thickness. The skin’s horny layer contains very little water, meaning that we are generally able to flash freeze the skin without forming ice crystals. We use a refrigerated diamond knife to slice 20-30 nanometre skin samples. These thin frozen slices are then placed on a grid before being placed in a refrigerated cryo-electron microscope. We then fire electrons at the skin sample to obtain an image of the tissue. Under ideal circumstances we can achieve a resolution of a few angstrom, i.e. with molecular resolution. What conclusions have you come to about the skin barrier? – We have been working to determine the structure of skin at molecular level using Jacques Dubochet’s method for almost 20 years now. The skin barrier retains water in the body but also prevents chemicals, such as medicines, from penetrating. We succeeded in uncovering the basic structure in 2012. This year, by combining Jacques’ cryo-electron microscopy method with molecular dynamic simulation techniques, we succeeded in creating a ‘living’ atomic model of the skin barrier. This can be used to determine pharmaceutical penetration through the skin and now we hope to be able to calculate how a number of medicines can be more easily absorbed through the skin. To be able to administer medicines through the skin would be advantageous as it would bypass the liver and intestinal mucosa and avoid side effects. If the model can be used to screen medicines through simulation, we also hope to be able to radically reduce the use of laboratory animals. What does the attention focused on this technique mean to your research group? – Here at KI, we are well advanced when it comes to using cryo-electron microscopy on cells and tissues with skin as a reference. We hope that the scientific community opens its eyes to the opportunities offered by the method and understands that Sweden is an international leader in the field. The problem is that the microscope is extremely expensive. The entire procedure is costly, time-consuming and requires high levels of specialist expertise. However, if we want to understand the structure and function of cells at a molecular level, there is currently no alternative to Jacques’ technique. Sooner or later, we must take the step from test tubes to living cells and this is where tissue cryo-electron microscopy comes in. Text: Maja Lundbäck  

KI comments on the Swedish National Audit Office’s report

Fri, 01/12/2017 - 11:08
Comment: In a recently issued report, the Swedish National Audit Office notes that the state universities and other institutions of higher education have accumulated over twelve billion kronor (SEK) in unused appropriations and other surpluses. The Swedish National Audit Office believes that this indicates an inefficient utilisation of resources, and recommends that the Swedish Government improve its governance. Karolinska Institutet’s public capital amounts to approximately SEK 1.5 billion, and KI has already commenced efforts prior to this report to reduce it to a lower level. “For a long time now we have called for a definition of what level of public capital is appropriate for an organisation such as ours, as there are no rules presently, and I welcome this review by the Swedish National Audit Office,” comments Eva Tegelberg, Director of Finance of Karolinska Institutet. The approximately SEK 1.5 billion that the Karolinska Institutet has in public capital is distributed not only among its 22 departments and their research groups, but also among asset management and holding companies. In recent years, the amount has increased approximately at the same rate as the revenues. Thus, measured as a percentage of revenues, the public capital of the Karolinska Institute has not increased. The Swedish National Audit Office concluded in its report that most institutions of higher education have commenced with work to slow down this growth, and that the public capital has begun to decline at half of them. Efforts have also been initiated at Karolinska Institutet to reduce the public capital. “It is clear from the forecasts in our budget estimates that KI will reduce its public capital over the next few years,” remarks Eva Tegelberg.

How education and clinical research can be managed in the new healthcare landscape

Fri, 01/12/2017 - 10:15
In line with an increasing proportion of healthcare being conducted outside the emergency hospitals, there is now a major challenge arising – how to ensure training and clinical research maintain priority. The annual conference ‘InFuturum’, with Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm County Council as hosts, focused on management and leadership in the new healthcare landscape. When healthcare managers met representatives from the country’s medical faculties at Aula Medica on 23 November, it was to discuss the future challenges within the new healthcare landscape. This upcoming spring, it is expected that a new law on highly-specialised care will be pushed through. Hospitals will now focus on the patient groups they know best. Seriously ill patients are treated in hospitals providing highly-specialised care, while others are cared for in nearby emergency care hospitals or within primary care. The reshaping is called ‘level structuring’ and means that the patient receives the right are at the right level. Karolinska University Hospital focuses on highly-specialised care, and next year will see the opening of the new highly-specialised intensive emergency department for only the most seriously ill patients. This will have consequences to research and training at KI. “The future is already here. The conditions have changed and we therefore have new challenges in how research and training is to be organised. Healthcare will be given through a greater number of providers and research must be conducted where the patients are,” said Ole Petter Ottersen, Vice-Chancellor at  Karolinska Institutet, when he introduced the conference together with Malin Frenning, Director at the Stockholm County Council (SLL). Malin Frenning emphasised the strong link needed between healthcare and educational institutions, but also between the institutions themselves. “We need a forward-looking way to meet the healthcare challenges of the future. To achieve success we also need to deepen and improve the collaboration between the university and colleges,” she said. The new intensive emergency department affects medical training The fact that there aren’t expected to be many patients at the highly-specialised intensive emergency department at Karolinska University Hospital, together with there being only a limited number of diagnoses, will all impact the medical students. In order for the medical students to get the right training, it must be organised in a new way. The entirety of medical training is simultaneously facing a reshaping. The day before the conference the government issued a proposal for an one-year basic service requirement for medical students. Jens Schollin, Senior Professor at Örebro University, who created the proposal, was also present. “The basic service requirement should focus on primary care and emergency care, and there should also be a freedom of choice. We want people to know one or two specialities,” he said. The basic service requirement, which replaces AT, is introduced on condition that a proposal for an entirely new six-year medical training period will be put through. Stefan Lindgren, professor at Lund University, was tasked by the government to investigate the new medical training. “If the students are trained in professional roles, we need to have a focus on the environments where they can actually learn. Training has previously focused on the serious illness processes, but we need more focus on chronic illness processes,” he said. Academic specialist centres medical students new training areas Sofia Ernestam, operations manager at the Academic Specialist Centre [Akademiskt specialistcentrum] within SLL, with the Medical centre for Rheumatology, Centre for Diabetes and Centre for Neurology, considers the Academic Specialist Centre to be an excellent training location for students, but also a good example of a business where research-intensive care is already carried out. “But we can learn so much more, and in addition, we need to have academically-driven individuals who are committed, involved and who push development forward. By moving closer to primary care, we will be able to ‘capture’ these patients and do studies, perhaps before they become ill. But we need to network more in order to get good results and work together with primary care,” she said. The clinical research follows the patients Also of the opinion that the clinical research should follow the patients was Annika Tibell, associate hospital director at Karolinska University Hospital: “Clinical research must, as far as is reasonably possible, follow the patients. This means that the network of researchers reaches out further to other parts of the healthcare chain,” she said. Anna Martling, professor of surgery at Karolinska Institutet, shared some examples of how she networks with hospitals across Sweden - known as ‘clinical networking research’. In her research on colon and rectal cancer, she needs to screen 4,000 patients in order to achieve a sufficient amount of patient data. “Building clinical networks was necessary in order to have access to patients. We went and spoke with every hospital in each region and found 27 centres that are now involved with us. We also have to train doctors and nurses to go into new roles and begin researching. This needs resources and takes time, but we’re now underway with the study,” she said. Text: Maja Lundbäck

“#akademiuppropet is a unique opportunity for change”

Thu, 30/11/2017 - 14:44
2,400 women have signed the academic community’s #metoo – #akademiuppropet, the University Call to Action, as having been subjected to sexual harassment or other forms of violations of personal integrity based on their gender. Stories also come from the staff and students at the Karolinska Institutet. The Call to Action is now seen as an opportunity to transform the academic community at its foundation. “Karolinska Institutet takes these testimonies presented in the Call to Action extremely seriously. KI must be an organisation where neither the staff nor its students are subjected to or subject another to violations of personal integrity of the kind that those in the academic community are now talking about,” says Karin Dahlman-Wright, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and responsible for gender mainstreaming issues and work environment at Karolinska Institutet, and continues: “KI must be prepared to investigate suspected cases and to provide the victim with adequate support and assistance. A part of this, is that leaders at all levels are alert, responsive and act forcefully when suspicions of sexual harassment arise.” KI actively works to combat discrimination, including via regular educational efforts and workshops for both employees and students. Equal treatment and equal opportunities is also an element of various leadership courses and courses related to academic supervision, as well as the courses and educational programs for students. Plus, in addition to support for students and staff, KI funds a student ombudsman and a graduate student ombudsman where undergraduate and graduate students can turn to. Surveys do not provide the whole picture In order to measure the extent of the problem of sexual harassment and other discrimination at KI, questionnaire surveys have been conducted regularly among staff and students. However Caroline Olsson, who has been the coordinator for equal opportunity and broadening recruitment at KI for many years, is of the view that these are blunt instruments, and that staff surveys and actual complaints filed do not provide an accurate picture of how substantial and complex the problem really is. “#akademiuppropet shows that violations of personal integrity in the academic world have been normalised. Some women haven’t even verbalised either to themselves or someone else that they have been subjected to such an incident. Only now do they begin to think about what happened and recall the events, which is now described as violations of personal integrity. On the other hand, in some cases it is very clear to both those who have been the victim and to those who have been the perpetrator – and many in the immediate environment know very well what is going on,” says Caroline Olsson. Sexual harassment has many nuances Elisa Floriddia, Chair of the KI Postdoctoral Association at KI thinks #akademiuppropet strikingly illustrates both the extent and the many nuances of sexual harassment that exists. “I would really hope that the most extreme cases of sexual harassment get reported; but I’m really not so sure. Many are too afraid to put their job at risk, especially as many postdocs only have temporary contracts. In addition, it is sometimes difficult to promptly recognize signs of harassment, as we all grew up in in a gender biased/discriminatory society,” she says. The Junior Faculty’s Chair Emma Andersson thinks that #akademiuppropet reveals the inequalities, how unequal the power relationships between men and women are in the professional world, something that is a particularly hard burden for young female academics. “I truly hope that now more attention will be devoted to microaggression, inappropriate behaviour and unconscious prejudices at all levels of academia. At the same time, I hope that the campaign does not eat away at the trust and the great progress we are making in terms of good cooperation and mentoring between men and women or non-binary* individuals,” she says. Many simply do not know where to turn to In a survey that Junior Faculty made of its members in 2017, nine percent (approximately 400 of those responding) stated that they had been a victim of discrimination in one way or another. Of these, 72 percent had not sought assistance or support at all; and 80 percent of those who sought help had not received adequate support. 52 percent did not know to whom, or where, they could turn to if they were subjected to such an incident. Therefore, despite KI’s systematic efforts to combat discrimination, the problem is difficult to solve as it is rooted in power imbalances, situations of dependency and structural problems in the competitiveness of the academic world. “The problem persists in the entire academic research community, not only at KI. This often involves a power relationship, and many choose not to take the matter further, perhaps for fear that they will suffer negative consequences,” Caroline Olsson says. So how can we address the problem? Caroline Olsson describes a kind of “culture of silence” that exists within academic institutions throughout the world, a normalisation of discrimination. It may be that many in a group keep quiet, even though they know that someone is being subjected to abuse. “#akademiuppropet is a way to break this silence. This is a unique opportunity for the academic community in general and KI in particular to change the culture that has for so long maintained power imbalances between the genders. The evidence testifies to that this is a structural problem, not simply individual individuals who ‘were treated poorly’ or ‘got into trouble’,” she comments. Elisa Floriddia thinks it’s primarily about education, that everyone at KI should know how to best deal with sexual harassment and whom to contact for assistance and information, anonymously. Secondly, it is about continuing the efforts to implement a culture of mutual respect and gender equality. “Sexual harassment stems from discrimination and, in turn, from prejudice. The KI Postdoc Association thinks that in addition to explicit prejudices, we should become be even more aware of our unconscious prejudices, and find tools to neutralise them,” she says. Emma Andersson has hopes that KI will implement a course on unconscious prejudices for everyone who reviews and makes decisions regarding the approving of applications for funding or the hiring for employment. “The Junior Faculty also thinks that increased transparency and policies concerning prejudices should be incorporated into in all decision-making and evaluation processes, as subjectivity has proven to be a common cause for discrimination. Increased gender equality and diversity among members of the boards, departments, workgroups and dissertation defence committees is also needed. This will ultimately lead to a meritocracy* where the best academic researchers, irrespective of gender, get promoted,” she remarks. KI must raise the level of ambition Both Elisa Floriddia and Emma Andersson emphasize that KI must have an organisation which takes a very strong stand against discrimination and sexual harassment. Department heads and the senior management need to show that this is wrong. It must also be clear, where one can and should turn to. “It is important that complaints of sexual harassment are handled properly and taken seriously. Perpetrators must suffer the consequences of their actions,” stresses Elisa Floriddia. Since the 1 January 2017 when the provisions of the Swedish Anti-Discrimination Act were made more stringent, KI has imposed upon itself the requirement to analyse the risks that are present for discrimination and sexual harassment to arise in the institution. “After that, we must then analyse what the risks are due to and then work on both prevention and promotion. KI must raise its level of ambition in this work and with this, the leadership in the academic community has a vital role. Ultimately, it is us at the management level who have the responsibility for combating the kind of abuses and violations of personal integrity that women testify to in #akademiuppropet,” stresses Karin Dahlman-Wright. * Meritocracy is a social order in which individuals are ranked in a hierarchy and the distribution of social rewards is according to ability and merits, usually measured by educational attainment and qualifications. Source: NE * “Non-binary” is what the person who identifies as between or beyond the female-male division of gender might call themselves. Source: RFSL Text: Helena Mayer Facts The legislation is clear: sexual harassment is illegal and suspected cases must be investigated. Anyone who has been found guilty risks, as an employee, being dismissed from their job, or suffering a reduction in salary; or as a student, being expelled from the educational programme.