Published: 2021-10-29 12:19 | Updated: 2021-10-29 12:19

Meet Kristina Haugaa, MedH:s new Professor

Portrait photo of woman with sky as background.
Professor Kristina Haugaa at the Department of Medicine Huddinge. Photo: Amalia Kewenter

Kristina Haugaa is the new Professor of Cardiology at the Department of Medicine in Huddinge, since October 11. "I'm eager and thrilled to conduct cardiology research at Karolinska Institutet".

What is your new role at MedH?

I'm new Professor in cardiology, at the Heart and Lung diseases Unit at the Department of Medicine in Huddinge. Presently, I have a 70/30 employment, where my main role will be the professorship at MedH, combined with a smaller part at the Karolinska University hospital here in Huddinge. Currently I'm working 50 percent at Karolinska Institutet, which means that I will be present at MedH every second week. 

Tell us about your research!

My main interest in cardiology is cardio genetics. It's an expanding field, and has developed rapidly ever since the genetic testing of heart diseases started on a routine basis approximately 15 years ago. I investigate life threatening ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death caused by genetic cardiac diseases. We have started to learn more about genetic heart diseases. There are plenty of patients with different genetic heart diseases. Some patients are totally healthy apart from their inheritable heart disease, and others develop cardiomyopathy for example, which gets worse over time and might lead to heart failure.

Screening of family members is important to understand genetic heart diseases

The genetic heart diseases are typically shown in childhood and the early adulthood, and for people younger than 35 who experience or are rescued from sudden cardiac death, the cause is often genetic heart disease. There are a lot of patients with different diseases caused by genetics. On a clinical basis, we work with index patients, people who have survived cardiac arrest for example. We do genetic testing of these patients and investigate the proportion of their family members having the disease when the patient is diagnosed. We screen and test the family members, all the way to the extended family such as cousins, their children and so on, where we can find people with susceptibility to die suddenly. My research has involved  diagnostic measures, follow up, and treatment of these patients. For example, it is important to detect early disease in family members to start treatment early and thereby prevent the most unwanted event, the cardiac arrest.

I also investigate the risk of doing exercise, some of the patients are strictly forbidden to exercise since it makes it worse, whilst others benefit from exercise. We need to explore the impact of exercise on every disease, since it’s different depending on the disease.

If you're a young researcher and have found an area that you are passionate about - follow that path!

Kristina's advice to researchers in their early career

When did you know you wanted to become a researcher?

In my very early career as a medical doctor, I had a patient about my age at that time, 28 years old. She came in with an ‘electrical storm’, meaning several cardiac arrests after each other. I had to defibrillate her, maybe 30 times. She survived my call, but eventually she died unfortunately. It turns out that she had one of these genetic diseases. Her case had a great impact on me, I just knew it had to be explored further. That's how it started for me, and now I've been researching this field for more than 20 years.

What are your plans as Professor at MedH?

I am eager and thrilled about doing cardiology research at Karolinska Institutet. There are so many interesting studies going on at MedH and there are enormous opportunities.  My aim is to include cardiologic and cardiogenetic research at the cardiologic research team here at MedH. It's exiting to be aware of the possibilities that lie ahead!

I must say that the KI environment and spirit is fantastic, what I've seen so far. The lab facilities here look awesome and I am also impressed by the hospital. I'm really looking forward to be part of this amazing environment!

What do you wish to achieve with your research?

I want to build on and expand the Swedish cohort of patients affected by genetic heart diseases, and ultimately create a huge database on Nordic patients, in order to get answers in many areas in genetic cardiology where there are still open clinical questions, like how exercise and pregnancies effect the disease. I want to investigate if there are other spectres of disease that we don't know of today.

Furthermore, there are many other cardiac diseases with probable genetic origin and where genetic exploration is of interest. In the end, genetic therapy is the future solution and some promising results are emerging.

What is the best part of your job?

It’s a privilege to be able to do what I love and to share and develop ideas and projects with my colleagues. I really enjoy being part of the inspiring research and education environment here at MedH and KI.

Short summary on Kristina's background

MD, PhD, FESC. Apart from the new professorship at the Department of Medicine in Huddinge, Kristina is Head of Outpatient Clinic and Genetic Cardiac Diseases, Department of Cardiology at Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet. She is also Associate professor at the Institute of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oslo.