Published: 12-09-2017 18:00 | Updated: 14-09-2017 20:32

Strong emphasis on collaboration to tackle health challenges

Göran Stiernstedt Ole Petter Ottersen Helen Hellmark Knutsson

Sweden holds a strong position in the field of life science. While at the same time we are facing serious health challenges and need to adapt to changes in the world around us, not least rapid digitalisation. Players in the Life Science sector met for an afternoon at Karolinska Institutet to discuss the need for interaction to be able to meet the challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges is how research and education are to keep pace with the extensive changes that are taking place, not only in Stockholm but around the world. That challenge is enormous and requires us to cooperate in order for our society to have the beast health services and health and medical care in the future,” said Karolinska Institutet’s new vice-chancellor Ole Petter Ottersen as he welcomed participants to the seminar on health and life science in the Samuelsson Hall on September 6th.

The seminar is part of a nationwide series of seminars on societal challenges based on the research policy bill that the government put forward in 2016. Helene Hellmark Knutsson, Minister for Higher Education and Research, attends the seminars where concerned players from academia, trade and industry and other parts of society come together to discuss how the initiatives in the bill can be translated into practice and do the most good.

Ole Petter Ottersen said that Karolinska Institutet has listed six main points in the university’s strategies for interaction: development of university healthcare, regional and national cooperation, more interaction with trade and industry, incentives for and financing of innovation, strategic cooperation with trade and industry, and international collaborations. The major infrastructural changes currently taking place at Karolinska Institutet need well-developed forms of interaction with, among others, Stockholm County Council, Sweden’s trade and industry and other prominent universities, both in Sweden and in other countries. Professor Ottersen emphasised that all the ongoing initiatives and investments are taking place in interaction with the health and medical care services in order to further integrate research with clinical operations and activities.

The research policy bill turned into practical action

In her introduction to the seminar, Helene Hellmark Knutsson emphasised that now is the time to turn the research policy into practical action. The new research funds and research programmes have just been set in motion and it is time to implement the research policy in reality.

“It feels good to see so many of those who are to help us tackle societal challenges participating here,” Hellmark Knutsson told her audience.

She emphasised that Sweden has traditionally been a country that has invested in research, which is for example evident in the Times Higher Education’s ranking of universities around the world where three Swedish universities can be found among the world’s top 100.

The research policy bill’s starting point is to tackle societal challenges through collaboration, she went on. In order to achieve this, basic appropriations are being raised and particular initiatives will be put into effect with among other things ten-year research programmes and measures to promote collaboration and innovation. She emphasised, however, that more research funding does not always mean higher quality of the research results.

“We must announce more career-development positions in international competition. Well-defined, transparent career paths are important in order to attract the best researchers. Today, many have time-limited positions and too many are recruited internally. We have traditionally favoured ‘home-grown sons’, that is to say men from one’s own university,” Helena Hellmark Knutsson said.

More research linkage in education programmes, better conditions for doctoral students and quality assurance also of research are further examples from the research policy bill that Helena Hellmark Knutsson emphasised.

“We have world-leading research in some areas of Life Science. We have health and medical care that covers all patients. We have good registers and bio-banks. All of these could put us even further ahead. I look forward to collaborating with you all to make Sweden a leading research nation in Life Science.”

Helena Hellmark Knutsson also emphasised her support for the proposal that the European Medicines Agency should be located in Sweden, before handing over to moderator Göran Stiernstedt, senior lecturer and member of the University Senate Council at Karolinska Institutet.

Research projects with social linkages

Seminar participants then watched presentations on the theme of health challenges from four researchers at Karolinska Institutet. Professor Kristina Johnell, Division Head of the Aging Research Center, spoke about the challenges of drug treatment in elderly people. Among other things she said that elderly people are often excluded from clinical trials and that sensitivity to drugs increases the older we become.

Ylva Trolle Lagerros, senior lecturer at the Department of Medicine, described how digital technology can be used to promote health. We can among other things use our smartphones to register the amount of exercise we do, share exercise data with our care provider and together set common goals for better health.

“The exciting thing about this is that 70 percent of the participants in the research project are older men, a group that is usually difficult to reach when it comes to health promoting research. And the digital care plan makes a difference. Almost all take that extra evening walk to reach their goal,” she said.

Christian Giske, senior lecturer at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, spoke about resistant intestinal bacteria and showed worrying figures of the proportion of resistant intestinal bacteria in various parts of the world. He pointed out, however, the importance of not scaring people and exaggerating the risks, which he said the media, among others, contributed to.

Professor Jan-Olov Höög from the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics gave his views on how university education programmes in Life Science should be designed to equip students for the future. Karolinska Institutet offers for example global master’s programmes that are taught in English and free university courses via the Internet (MOOC). Professor Höög also emphasised the need for innovations in the health sector and said that programmes and courses must meet the particular skills needs and the possible clashes of culture that may occur between a medical and a technical organisation as technical innovations increasingly pervade health and medical care.

The seminar ended with a panel discussion on how interaction can be effective and what thresholds and obstacles can make successful interaction difficult, in which Ole Petter Ottersen, Eric Vänerlöv, secretary of the National Coordination for Life Science study, Anna Sandström, Science Relations Director at AstraZeneca, Jenni Nordborg, director and head of the Health Department at Vinnova, and Malin Frenning, County Council Director for Stockholm County Council, took part.