Published: 2021-01-11 15:32 | Updated: 2021-01-13 15:47

Anna Martling named Cancer Researcher of the Year

Portrait of Anna Martling in hospital clothing at a desk in an office environment.
Anna Martling named Cancer Researcher of the Year 2021 Photo: Andrea Björsell

The Swedish Cancer Society has awarded the prestigious title Cancer Researcher of the Year 2021 to Anna Martling, professor of surgery at Karolinska Institutet and senior consultant colorectal surgeon at Karolinska University Hospital, as well as dean of KI Nord.

“It is an honour and an inspiration and it feels to me like an important stamp of quality for the research we conduct here and its importance to patients suffering from colorectal cancer. It means a great deal in terms of opportunities to develop knowledge and therapies – something that can make a real difference for patients suffering from bowel cancer,” says Anna Martling, professor at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery and dean of KI Nord.

This is the sixth time the prize has been awarded by the Swedish Cancer Society and, as previously, it was presented during TV4’s gala evening Together Against Cancer. Although on this occasion the gala took place without a studio audience, it otherwise followed the same format of performances by well-known artists interspersed with reports that look at cancer research and treatment from various perspectives.

“I conduct research into a common form of cancer – colorectal cancer – that unfortunately still has a high mortality rate; in other words, there is still much to do to improve [the prognosis] for this group of patients. I believe that one of the reasons I have been given this prestigious award is that my group has been working tenaciously for many years to improve treatment at an individual level in order to increase survival rates and reduce the risk of relapse by instituting more precise methods.”

In justifying the award, the Swedish Cancer Society said:

“For outstanding research into colorectal cancer, diseases that strike approximately 7,000 people in Sweden each year. Surgeon Anna Martling’s research offers today’s patients an increased chance of a cure or extended survival with a good quality of life. She is now leading new studies to reduce the risk of recurrent bowel cancer and to use precision medicine to identify the patients most likely to benefit from a specific treatment.”

The live television gala included a report on Anna Martling’s research. Her team is currently in the process of completing a major Nordic biomarker-based study of the value of using supplements of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin, to prevent relapse in patients who have undergone surgery for colorectal cancer. If the assumption behind the study proves correct, it may save between 300 and 400 lives in Sweden alone.

“In cancer, circulating tumour DNA is released into the bloodstream.  This can be measured using a standard blood test. The presence of tumour DNA in the blood may potentially prove to be a highly accurate biomarker that, for example, indicates residual tumour cells post surgery. With the increased financial support we have now received from the Swedish Cancer Society, we will be able to commence a study of the value of this blood test among a larger group of Swedish patients, in order to further improve treatment going forward,” concludes Anna Martling.