Published: 21-02-2024 17:20 | Updated: 22-02-2024 08:16

Annika Östman Wernerson: All of us at KI, staff and students alike, have many important things to do together

A portrait of President Annika Östman Wernerson
President Annika Östman Wernerson. Photo: Martin Stenmark

The internal investigation into the freezer malfunction at Neo on 22 December is expected to deliver its report in early March. A priority concern for the investigative teams has been ascertaining both the immediate and the underlying technical, organisational and other causes of the incident in which the automatic refilling of the cryo tanks with liquid nitrogen was interrupted, causing the temperature in 16 of the 19 tanks to rise and destroying decades of biological material.

The aim of the investigation is therefore to analyse the extent of the damage and its consequences. However the process will focus on learning from the incident and identifying the procedures, structures and systems required to ensure the safe handling of material in the future – not just at Neo, but all over KI where there are cryo freezers.

There are many questions to be answered and along with the researchers and departments concerned, we in the university management have taken pains to make sure that the answers we get are based on facts.

Even though the malfunction affects a small part of KI’s total research, it’s a disaster for the research groups whose research material has been completely ruined. 

When the investigation is over, an external, independent review group will be studying all the investigative material and writing a report to quality-assure the investigation and make sure that all significant aspects have been identified and scrutinised.

Equally important is the continuing dialogue between researchers and other employees who are immediately affected by the incident on the one hand, and heads of department, the Dean of KI South, investigators and us in the university management on the other. Several meetings have been held and more are planned, and all those affected at Neo are being kept updated with regular newsletters.

Information about the freezer malfunction and the ongoing investigation is posted regularly on the KI Staff Portal

Departmental meetings

The departmental meetings continue, and since I last wrote we’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Department of Clinical Research and Education, Söder Hospital (KI SÖS) and the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology (Clintec). Our discussions have been informative and interesting and have spanned such subjects as practice-based education, collaboration with the hospitals, combined positions, translational labs, premises, recruitment challenges and pensions.

This week we will be visiting the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology (Fyfa), the Department of Neuroscience (Neuro) and the Department of Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology (MTC).

Repatriation of human remains

At the end of 2018, KI was approached by the Committee for the Return of Finnish Remains, who demanded that the 80 or so human remains of Finnish origin in KI’s anatomical collections be returned to the places from where they were taken in the late 1800s. KI has wanted to see such a repatriation, but the decision must be made by the Swedish government – in concert with the Finnish. In other words, KI can not comply with the committee’s wishes of its own accord. 

However, the process has now taken a major step forwards, as the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture has recently written to the Swedish government asking that the human remains from the area that is now Finland be repatriated so that they may be interred.

KI will do what is required of us, and it is our wish that the matter be concluded correctly and with dignity. 

In this connection, I can announce that Christina Larsdotter, whose remains have been preserved in KI’s anatomical collections since the mid-1800s, will be reburied in Malå later this year in association with Malå Sami Association. In January this year I also made the decision to name a lecture hall on the KI campus after Christina Larsdotter.

I’m now looking forward to a few days’ skiing next week. I can’t wait for a little outdoor exercise! It’s also nice that the days are getting longer and that spring is around the corner. All of us at KI, staff and students alike, have many important things to do together and we all need some rest and recouperation now and again.

Latest updates from the President

Annika Östman Wernersonwrites regularly about issues that are important to the university under the heading "Latest updates from the President". The articles are published on KI's website and found at News and updates from the University Management. She also contributes regularly to the internal newsletter KI News. Previously published texts can be read in the news archive.