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Rolf Lewensohn

Professor/senior physician

Visiting address : Forskargrupper/ Forskargrupp Lewensohn, Rolf; CancerCenter Karolinska, Z5:01; Karolinska universitetssjukhuset, Solna, 171 76 st, Sweden
Postal address : Department of Oncology-Pathology (OnkPat), K7, Research Group Lewensohn, Rolf, Forskargrupper/ Forskargrupp Lewensohn, Rolf; CancerCenter Karolinska, Z5:01; Karolinska universitetssjukhuset, Solna, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden
Delivery address : Forskargrupper/ Forskargrupp Lewensohn, Rolf; CancerCenter Karolinska, Z5:01; Karolinska universitetssjukhuset, Solna, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden

About me

Rolf Lewensohn: Professor of Oncology, Karolinska Institute; Senior Consultant, Oncology Clinic, Karolinska Hospital.

  • Born 1949; leader of a Research Group with some 20 members at the Karolinska Institute Department of Oncology-Pathology.
  • Programme Director, Swedish Radiation Emergency Medicine Centre (KcRN), a radiation emergency function of the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare.
  • Member of the Scientific Boards of several Swedish funding bodies.
  • Author of more than 110 research papers on cancer.

Research description

Rolf Lewensohn has a scientific background in DNA repair apoptotic signalling in cancer as related to cancer therapy. His research focuses on the sensitivity of human tumours to radiation, as well as conventional and experimental chemotherapeutic drugs, with regard to the role of growth factor-, DNA-repair-, and apoptotic- signalling.

He and his group aim to develop new oncological treatments in the form of novel drug candidates and precision radiotherapy, with a personalized cancer medicine approach. The general interest of the research group is the development of novel treatments (both drugs and radiotherapy), mainly focused on lung cancer and furthermore breast, renal, and cervical cancer, multiple myeloma, and acute myeloid leukemia. From all types of malignancies, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality.  Each year approximately 1.4 million people die worldwide because of lung cancer. Possibilities to increase survival of lung cancer patients are rapidly emerging. Early stages of lung cancer in the form of a localized intra-thoracic tumor or a tumor with a limited number of metastases may now be attacked with curative intent. However, lung cancer is often detected only at a late stage.  Moreover, after an initial response to treatment, therapy-resistant clones inevitably start growing resulting in rapid disease progression. New knowledge of mutations specifically related to a certain type of cancer, identification of biomarkers to predict therapy response, and understanding of the molecular mechanisms of action of novel drugs opens up for personalization of treatment.

A number of novel drug candidates, among which some are reacting with tumor DNA and/or directed to interfering with DNA repair, are being developed in the group's laboratory through a full preclinical test system preceding clinical trials. This includes analysis of biochemical mechanisms of action of these drugs and identification of corresponding putative biomarkers to create precision in selecting patients with sensitive tumors for a specific treatment, while patients with resistant disease can be deselected from unnecessary treatment causing only side effects. Part of the research is discovery, using a systems biology approach including genomic and proteomic methodologies, focusing on cell signaling pathways and DNA damage/repair. The research comprises of work on tumor cells lines, primary tumor material from the Karolinska Biobank and in vivo experiments to determine proof-of-principal and pharmacological parameters. The group has brought one compound Melflufen, which is a conjugate of a peptide and a DNA-alkylator, to a phase II clinical trial with multiple myeloma patients.

In parallel, the group runs clinical trials on lung cancer at the Karolinska university hospital, in collaboration with pharmaceutical partners. A clinical trial program on precision-based hypofractionated stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) is ongoing and rapidly being further developed. Most of these clinical trials are performed in conjunction with the Nordic SBRT study group, which is chaired by Prof. Lewensohn. SBRT seems promising in treatment of inoperable tumors, to improve survival of lung cancer patients. In several clinical trials, drug and radiotherapy are also combined as a novel strategy to cure patients with both early localized and early metastasized disease.

Furthermore, the group has a leading role in the EurocanPlatform, an EU-funded project to bring together 28 European cancer institutions and organizations, with the aim to improve outcomes for cancer patients and reduce mortality. Within the Karolinska Institute, and Karolinska university hospital, Rolf Lewensohn is the primary initiator of the development of a personalized cancer medicine program. The ultimate goal of this program is to individualize therapy at all stages of disease by quickly and efficiently translating the latest scientific advances into concrete improvements of the care for cancer patients.