Published: 26-06-2023 13:00 | Updated: 26-06-2023 13:09

Precision medicine in focus at KI-hosted EU Life Science conference

KI President Annika Östman Wernerson, Dean Anna Martling and Professor Anna Wedell.
From left: KI President Annika Östman Wernerson, Dean Anna Martling and Professor Anna Wedell. Photo: Martin Stenmark, Andreas Andersson and Stefan Zimmerman.

To bring Sweden’s presidency of the EU to a close, the government is arranging a European Life Science conference to be held at Karolinska Institutet’s Aula Medica on 26–27 June. The theme of the conference is precision medicine, and KI – along with Karolinska University Hospital – has helped to draw up the programme.

“Personalised or precision medicine is the healthcare of the future,” says KI President Annika Östman Wernerson. Thanks to the development of technology, we can obtain large amounts of biological data from individuals. This enables safer diagnostics and more effective treatments. It also increases our possibilities to prevent illness.”

Professor Anna Martling, consultant at Karolinska University Hospital and dean at KI, has had a principal role in the design of the programme.

“For Sweden to foreground personalised medicine at the closing conference of its EU presidency sends an extremely powerful message that demonstrates the systemic shift facing all of Europe,” she says, and continues:

“The chosen topic shows the importance of our combined efforts at Karolinska University Hospital and Karolinska Institutet to implement precision health and precision medicine into healthcare.”

Deep collaboration

Over the past four years, KI and Karolinska University Hospital have been deeply engaged in precision medicine, which is also known as personalised medicine and, in brief, means finding out as much as possible about an individual patient to be able to make the right diagnosis and offer the best possible treatment.

In 2020, a task force was set up to escalate the implementation of precision medicine in healthcare, and a year later, the Precision Medicine Centre Karolinska (PMCK) was launched to introduce precision medicine into everyday medical practice in a responsible, ordered manner.

“This is a very exciting time,” says Professor Anna Wedell, director of the PMCK and one of the conference panelists. “We’ve collaborated for many years between Karolinska University Hospital, Karolinska Institutet and SciLifeLab to implement precision diagnostics for rare diseases, now we are scaling up to many more areas.”

Technical advances such as whole genome sequencing combined with new biomarkers and targeted treatments open up new possibilities for realising the potential of precision medicine.

Need for more training

But it will also require the collaboration of education, research and healthcare. Current and future medical professionals need to be trained in precision medicine and hospitals will require a reliable supply of skills in such fields as medical genetics, bioinformatics, biostatistics and system architecture, as well as ethicists to deal with matters like AI and data sharing.

“Personalised medicine is not just about research and health care – it is also about education,” Annika Östman Wernerson says.  “As a medical university we need to educate the next generation of health care professionals for this ongoing transition.”

According to Professor Martling, the Life Science cluster now being established in Hagastaden is a vital hub in the further development of precision medicine.

“Spaces are needed for people from the academic, healthcare and industrial sectors to meet,” she says. “The environment being built in Hagastaden – with Karolinska University Hospital, KI and commercial enterprises – will encourage meetings that will provide unique opportunities to continue driving these developments forward.”

This article is partly based on a longer interview with Anna Martling published on the Karolinska University Hospital website (in Swedish).

About the conference Life Sciences – The Era of Personalised Medicine

The conference spotlights Life Sciences, with the aim of taking the next step in the development and organisation of personalised medicine – a key issue for Europe. It will provide an opportunity for international dialogue and collaboration between the key stakeholders. The conference will highlight the importance of research and innovation, point out opportunities and challenges, and set out the future course for Europe.