Interview: Mattias Carlsten
Mattias Carlsten is one of three young researchers from KI who is receiving start-up support from the Swedish Society for Medical Research (SSMF). His research focuses on NK cells and their ability to kill cancer cells – a phenomenon he has studied over the last few years at both the NIH in the United States and KI. What is the aim of the research and what motivates him?
Mattias recently returned from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland, USA, where he had a postdoctoral position followed by a staff scientist position and worked on establishing and optimising a clinically relevant technology for genetic modification of Natural Killer (NK) cells. The long-term objective is to develop a platform that can be used to instruct NK cells to seek out the cancerous organ and specifically and effectively kill the cancer cells on site.
– Lately, my group and I have been working hard to optimise and evaluate the actual platform for the intended future treatment. The instrument used to genetically modify NK cells looks similar to a desktop computer and is built for both small-scale experiments in the lab and for genetic modification of large numbers of cells in conjunction with the treatment of a patient. The instrument was developed by a small company in the United States and, following its approval by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), several groups in the United States and around the world have now started using the platform in clinical trials on vaccination and various forms of cell therapy, says Mattias Carlsten.
What results have you observed following the treatment?
– We have yet to use genetically modified NK cells in patients and, so far, have only conducted experiments in the lab and in animal models in order to lay the groundwork for future human trials. Scrupulous experiments in the lab and in animal models are of the outmost importance before proceeding to trials in humans. In parallel with optimising the technology for future trials, I have helped treating cancer patients using non-genetically modified NK cells at both KI and NIH. These clinical studies also lay the groundwork that will enable us to implement genetically engineered cells in future clinical trials. The clinical trial on NK cell therapy in patients with advanced leukaemia that I have helped out conducting together with Andreas Björklund, Karl-Johan Malmberg and others here at KI/Karolinska University Hospital shows very promising results without any side effects. In slightly simplified terms, it can be said that around half of the patients have responded to the treatment and a number of these patients have exhibited really good responses and have thus been able to undergo a stem cell transplant with the aim of being cured. My intention with genetic modification of NK cells is to improve the success rate and the quality of the response by specifically guiding the NK cells to the organs that are being attacked by the cancer and more specifically and effectively kill the cancer cells there, says Mattias Carlsten.
What is your background?
– I studied medicine with extracurricular research education (LäFo) and the MD/PhD programme here at KI and completed my PhD in NK cell biology at CIM, with Karl-Johan Malmberg and Rolf Kiessling (at CCK) as my supervisors. In parallel with this, I completed by medical internship (Forskar-AT) here at the hospital in Huddinge. I have also been at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States twice – first as a postdoc for two years, and then as a staff scientist for a year and a half. I'm now back at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge, and will be building up a research group focusing on cellular cancer immunotherapy, with the primary focus being on NK cell-based immunotherapy.
Did you know early on that you wanted to be a doctor?
– No, not at all. When I was young, I wanted to be a baker and a chef. At upper-secondary school in Gothenburg I had an interest in cars, including for some strange reason the design of instrument panels. Then, by chance, I ended up taking a course in human biology where we discussed immunology – I found it really interesting and my teacher sent me to a research school between my second and third year at upper-secondary school, which whetted by appetite. Right after upper-secondary school, I attended a summer research school at KI and stayed in the lab for a year. After this, I decided to apply to study medicine at KI.
What motivates you?
– Mainly, it's my curiosity! And helping other people, of course. I also enjoy working with people and researchers as part of a team – regardless of their background and other interests, everyone works hard to achieve the same goal.
Lives: Hammarby Sjöstad
Interests in spare time: Sports, mainly floorball and hockey. The sea – fishing, diving and sailing.
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