Published: 11-10-2022 10:15 | Updated: 22-03-2024 10:16

Finding the right treatment with precision pathology

Johan Hartman is developing new diagnostic methods for predicting therapeutic responses and judging relapse risk in cancer. The methods range from patient-derived three-dimensional tumour models to AI-aided risk assessment.

Johan Hartman and Xinsong Chen in the lab.
Johan Hartman is professor of oncology-pathology (in the background Xinsong Chen). Photo: Stefan Zimmerman.

What are you researching? 

“My research is within precision pathology, which is to say advanced diagnostic techniques that open up new ways of matching the right medication to the right patient. My focus is cancer, with breast cancer as a model. We hope that the progress we’re making will eventually also help patients with other forms of cancer. There is a large arsenal of cancer drugs these days, and it’s a serious problem that we often don’t know in advance which of them will work.” 

What does this research involve? 

“Manual microscopy by pathologists is enhanced nowadays by computers, and an important aspect of my research is to develop this area. We’ve established a process at KI to develop computer systems for image analysis. For example, we’ve trained and developed an AI system to predict the risk of breast cancer recurrence with good precision. It takes 30 minutes; conventional analysis takes a couple of weeks and is expensive. A couple of regions are already introducing this tool in their hospitals as a CE-marked medical device. 

We’ve also developed a method for creating three-dimensional in vitro tumour models directly from patients. This enable us to test drug response as close to the patient as possible. I hope that this technique can one day be put to routine clinical use to help doctors quickly find the right drug for patients whose cancer has proved resistant to standard therapies. We’re currently evaluating this technique in a prospective study at Stockholm’s Södersjukhuset and it’s looking very promising.” 

Where will you go from here? 

“We’ve started to include other forms of cancer, such as urological and colorectal cancers, in our research. It is important to expand our findings to other patients. I’m very much looking forward to continuing this broadening of our activities.” 

Text: Anders Nilsson, in translation from Swedish
First published in the booklet ‘From Cell to Society 2022’

About Johan Hartman 

Professor of Tumour Pathology at the Department of Oncology-Pathology 

Johan Hartman was born in Stockholm in 1979. He graduated with a degree in molecular biology and biochemistry from Stockholm University in 2001, following it with a degree in medicine from KI in 2008. He earned his PhD that same year and obtained his MD licence in 2011, becoming a docent in 2015 and specialist in pathology in 2016. Clinically, he has been active since 2009 at Karolinska University Hospital, where he is currently consultant and medical supervisor for breast cancer pathology. 

Alongside his clinical work, Hartman has led a research group at KI since 2017. He co-founded Stratipath AB based on his academic research in 2019. 

Johan Hartman was appointed Professor of Oncology-Pathology at Karolinska Institutet on 1 September 2021. 

View a video about Johan Hartman