Published: 04-04-2023 10:30 | Updated: 04-04-2023 16:35

Jessica Alm is the new expert coordinator in laboratory and diagnostic surge capacity at the Centre for Health Crises

Woman in a white lab coat in a laboratory holding a tray of test tubes
Jessica Alm at NPC Photo: Andreas Andersson

The group of expert coordinators at the Centre for Health Crises keeps growing. The expert coordinators manage the work that is done within their field of expertise. The latest area of expertise to be added to the Centre is laboratory and diagnostic preparedness, with Jessica Alm as expert coordinator.

The Centre for Health Crises has chosen to structure part of its operations around a group of expert coordinators in various fields. The coordinators work part time at the Centre, and at the same time continues their clinical and academic work in their respective fields. This provides a very valuable sustained connection the field and a network within it, which is hugely beneficial to the Centre’s work.

Jessica Alm is new in the group of coordinators. Her area of expertise – laboratory and diagnostic preparedness – spans across several issues that arise in a health crisis, particularly in a pandemic or outbreak of contagious disease, since it concerns laboratory and testing capacity, sequencing, and much more.

Various fields of research, the same common theme

Originally a cell biologist, she has a doctoral degree in orthopaedics and traumatology from the University of Turku, where she was part of setting up Finland’s first laboratory for mesenchymal stem cells. Since 2012 she has worked in various capacities at KI, in Turku and as a guest researcher in Boston. Whilst the topics of research have varied, from orthopaedics, regenerative medicine, immunology and genetics, the common theme has always been a focus on translational research, diagnostics, and quality control of laboratory processes with patients’ samples. It was thanks to these previous experiences that she became involved with the National Pandemic Centre (NPC) in the spring of 2020, and began holding various positions of responsibility there.

Since 2021 Jessica is the Head of Unit at NPC. NPC was formed in 2020, when, in the space of just four weeks, a research lab was transformed and a large scale diagnostic operation was set up to assist Sweden with analysis of the prevalence of COVID-19 through nucleic acid testing of SARS-CoV-2. During 2021 NPC moved from diagnostic to large scale sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, to contribute to the national monitoring of the virus’ development. Since then, more than 135 000 whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 have been conducted at the NPC. That figure represents 60% of all COVID-19 sequencing in Sweden. At the same time a national biobank of COVID-19 has been established, which today contains over 1,5 million samples, and NPC now has the role of national preparedness laboratory.

The role of universities in a health crisis is a key issue

"The COVID-19 pandemic was the ultimate test, that highlighted weaknesses and areas for improvement when it came to laboratory preparedness and coordination between different actors. At the same time, it also provided us with examples of successful collaborations, when there was the will and the courage to do so. I want to make the most of these experiences and find a way to maintain and improve these collaborations in order to make us better prepared for the next crisis. In this I see the universities’ role in society as a key issue. I really look forward to continuing to work with these issues as part of the interdisciplinary team of expert coordinators that the Centre for Health Crises has established", says Jessica.