Published: 11-04-2014 13:31 | Updated: 28-04-2014 14:35

Niklas Björkström receives NovoNordisk grant

Niklas Björkström, Assistant Professor at CIM, Department of Medicine, Huddinge, KI, has been awarded a significant grant from Novo Nordic Foundation.

Niklas Björkström is one of the recipients of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Excellence Project for 2014. He will receive 5 million DKK to use during a period of five years on his project "Role for natural killer (NK) cell-mediated hepatic inflammation in progression from obesity induced NAFLD to NASH". The award was handed out 10 April in Hellerup, Denmark.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation was founded in 1989. One of the objectives of the Novo Nordisk Foundation is to support scientific and humanitarian purposes.

What does the NovoNordisk grant mean to you?

-It is of course very exciting and inspiring. The project that the grant will cover is a newly initiated project and this will allow us to launch and make progress in all the studies we have planned. Furthermore, since it is a five-year grant, this will allow us to plan more long-term.

What is your project about?

-We are studying how the immune system functions in patients with fatty liver disease and fatty liver disease patients developing liver inflammation because of their underlying condition. More specifically, we are interested in understanding the role of natural killer cells in liver inflammation. We perform these studies in close collaboration with clinical scientists at Gastrocentrum, Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge and also with clinicians at Danderyds Hospital.

How common is the disease that you’re researching?

-Fatty liver disease is a common condition. In certain countries, up to 30 percent of the population is affected. Of these, 10-20 percent will progress in their disease and develop liver inflammation. Today, clinically, it is not possible to predict if a patient will progress in his or her disease or not.

What results are you hoping for?

-From a basic scientific perspective we anticipate gaining new knowledge on how natural killer cells function in the human liver and how this function is altered during fatty liver disease and steatohepatitis. From a clinical point-of-view, and in a more long-term perspective, we hope to provide new insights that might help pinpointing patients at a high risk of progressing in their disease.

What is the most recent discovery within your research area that’s had significant relevance in your research?

-The reason why we initially launched this project was the publication of a number of key observations from murine models suggesting innate lymphocytes to exhibit an important role in progression of fatty liver disease. This inspired us to now investigate this in the human setting.

What will happen next?

-One PhD-student is already linked to the project. I will now start a process of recruiting a new postdoctoral fellow to the project. Furthermore, we will intensify our collaboration with the clinical scientists.