Our vision is to bring together basic and clinical competences to pursue cutting-edge research improving the understanding of cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in normal and dysregulated hematopoiesis and tissue regeneration. The ultimate goal is to translate novel scientific findings into the clinic, thereby improving patient outcome.
The Center for Hematology and Regenerative Medicine (HERM) was inaugurated in January 2012 with a mission to join research groups within hematology, hemopoiesis, stem cell biology, immunology and cell therapy at Karolinska Institutet’s South Campus. The vision included an innovative and collaborative translational research environment with strong ties to several key departments at the Karolinska University Hospital, including Hematology, Clinical Immunology and Transfusion Medicine, Pediatrics, and Infectious Diseases.
The establishment of HERM and the WIRM Flow Cytometry Facility was supported by a generous grant from the Wallenberg Institute of Regenerative Medicine (WIRM), and by support from the Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet (KI), and the Karolinska University Hospital. HERM presently has sixteen research groups, three of which were initially recruited through the WIRM grant. In February 2018, HERM moved to the new KI Neo building which hosts close to 400 researchers from several departments and houses some excellent core facilities.
The first HERM Scientific Advisory Board meeting took place in 2015, with the aim to get advice on the initial structure and direction of the center. The three initial WIRM junior PIs were reviewed by the SAB in 2017. The present SAB is the first complete evaluation of the center and its research groups. This scientific report has been assembled as an overall presentation of HERM in conjunction with the SAB. However, we also hope that it will serve the purpose of a general information of HERM to the scientific community, inspiring young and established groups to seek contact for collaborations and recruitments.
Flemingsberg October 1st 2019
Eva Hellström Lindberg
HERM is an interdisciplinary translational research environment and educational platform dedicated to hematology, immunology and regenerative medicine. Our vision is to bring together basic and clinical competences to pursue cutting-edge research to improve the understanding of molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in
normal and dysregulated hematopoiesis and tissue regeneration. The ultimate goal is to translate novel scientific findings into the clinic, thereby improving patient care and treatment outcome.
Hematology has for many years been a strong clinical discipline at the Karolinska University Hospital. At the KI South Campus in Huddinge, there was also a successful clinicaltranslational research tradition primarily within the fields of malignant hematology and stem cell transplantation. The research laboratories were, however, spread over different buildings and there was no tradition for deep scientific collaboration. Moreover, basic hematological research was overall weak.
Discussions about how to improve this situation started in 2010 and resulted in a policy decision to gather individual research groups in a single physical environment
and by this strengthen basic hematological research. This process was supported by a generous grant from WIRM and by support from the Department of Medicine, KI, and the Karolinska University Hospital. The WIRM grant enabled the establishment of a cutting-edge flow cytometry facility, the recruitment of Sten-Eirik Jacobsen (at that time employed at Oxford University) to a 25% guest professor position at KI, and the possibility to announce three junior group leader positions with start-up packages. The research and development office at the Karolinska University Hospital financed an ambitious reconstruction of the first research environment in the Novum building, while WIRM and the Department of Medicine Huddinge jointly supported equipment of the lab.
Importantly, however, the bulk of available research funding came from the research groups that joined in the new environment. HERM decided to develop a platform based research environment, in which equipment and space is shared between groups in order to enhance scientific collaboration and cut-back on costs. After one year of construction, HERM was inaugurated in January 2012. During the following five years some groups left HERM and four new groups joined the environment. In 2017, the lab had become crowded and it was clear HERM research groups needed more effectively planned premises. A decision was made to move HERM to the new Neo building at KI South Campus. The move was completed in February 2018.
HERM is a platform-based research environment in which all major equipment and a set of common reagents is shared. Optimal usage of office space, lab space and tissue culture rooms is discussed and determined at regular meetings. Most PIs have special responsibilities, including management of lab equipment, tissue culture rooms, biosafety, flow cytometry core, mouse regulations, seminars, junior PI meetings and PhD issues. Open meetings for all HERM employees are arranged four times per year. The HERM PI group meets monthly to discuss recruitments, policy issues, joint investments and educational matters. Each PI meeting ends with a scientific presentation from one of the PIs.
The HERM management group also meets monthly. Strategic and practical issues to be brought to the PI meetings are prepared, and minor decisions can be taken. The management group consists of the chair and two senior PIs, in addition 2-3 junior PIs who join this group for a period of 2 years on a rotational scheme.
HERM has a joint lab manager, Monika Jansson (50%) and a joint administrator, Sri Sahlin (70%). In addition, all staff members from the research groups constitute a network managing various support functions at HERM. Students and post docs also have some limited but regular duties.
The overall strategy at HERM, which follows on our vision, is to provide an environment that is balanced with regard to clinical and basic science expertise by its PIs and to foster collaboration in research networks, within HERM and externally.
Scientific collaboration within strong research networks is a prerequisite for both quality and funding. HERM strives to foster fruitful collaboration between
clinical and preclinical researchers in Sweden and internationally. Many HERM PIs are active within or lead, Swedish, Nordic and international clinical-translational study groups, which increases research exchange over excellent clinical databases and biobanks, and improves the access to novel study drugs.
Several groups at HERM are also actively involved in the development of new therapies including cellular therapies. International collaboration adds key competence to the projects and helps to sharpen research questions. Some PIs are also formally engaged at other universities; Sten-Eirik Jacobsen holds a 20% professorship at the University of Oxford, UK, Yenan Bryceson is a guest professor at the University of Bergen, Norway, Evren Alici is a guest professor at the Nova Southeastern University, Florida, USA, and Sören Lehmann is affiliated to HERM from a professorship in hematology at Uppsala University, Sweden. Research group meetings often involves individuals participating from a distance.
The research around malignant stem cells and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) constitutes a good example of international collaboration. A constellation
of four HERM PIs and the first HERM Guest professor Seishi Ogawa (Kyoto) acquired, in 2017, a 45 million SEK project grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, with a possibility for prolongation, if successful.
Other HERM PIs as well as a network of excellent international colleges are since the start linked to this constellation and meet at annual conferences. Projects are also strengthened by students and post docs moving between New York, Kyoto, Pavia and KI.
Another example is the recently established Competence Center for Next-Generation NK Cell-based Cancer Immunotherapy (NextGen-NK) joining researchers at KI South, the PreGMP facility at ANAFutura, the Karolinska Cell Therapy Center (Vecura) and the Hematology clinic, to create a world-class research environment in the field of natural killer cell-based immunotherapy of cancer.
NextGen-NK is scheduled to receive approximately 110 million SEK in funding over the next five years from multiple stakeholders including Vinnova, KI and industry partners, with an opportunity to apply for extended funding for an additional 5 years. NextGen-NK will be led by its Director, Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Professor at the
Department of Medicine, KI. NextGen-NK’s Co-Directors will be Evren Alici, the Department of Medicine, KI, and Karl-Johan Malmberg, Professor at the Department of Cancer Immunology, Institute for Cancer Research, Oslo University Hospital (also 20 % affiliated to the Department of Medicine Huddinge, KI).
HERM guest professor program
Strong international collaborations constitutes a crucial success factor for a scientific environment. Scientific networks are important both for research development and for the establishment of strong collateral links with key researchers within the field. KI offers the possibility to appoint prominent international colleges as guest professors.
Sten-Eirik Jacobsen was the first guest professor at HERM before his final recruitment, and as such he was an important part of the establishment of the center. Spurred by a number of generous gifts from patients with hematological disorders, HERM initiated a Guest Professor program in
2016 aiming to establish strong and fruitful stable collaboration with key scientific leaders within the field of hematology and regenerative medicine.
Through this program, Professor Seishi Ogawa was appointed guest professor at the Department of Medicine / HERM in 2017. Holding a professorship at Kyoto University, he visits HERM at least four times per year. Several of his former PhD students have joined HERM for postdoctoral education and young researchers at HERM plan to visit Kyoto during the coming years.
Future plans and challenges
Continuous development is a prerequisite for a successful research environment. The fields of hematology, immunology, and regenerative medicine are rapidly evolving, with a variety of innovative treatments emerging based on novel molecular and cellular insights. To be competitive, it is essential for HERM to maintain a good balance between clinical, translational and basic scientists. Moreover, it is important to support and strengthen existing research groups meanwhile working towards the recruitment of new principal investigators that can provide new competence and skills. The synergy between researchers, well-equipped laboratories, access to excellent core facilities, and a reasonable cost level are key factors for success.
The 2019 scientific advisory board recommendations will be a crucial part of HERM´s strategy for the next five years. We welcome constructive criticism and suggestions. The initiation of HERM was made possible through generous grants from the Wallenberg Foundation, KI, and the hospital, but the availability of such so-called platform grants has substantially decreased over the last years. Thus, in terms of maintaining the integrity of the current center and providing a platform for strategic recruitments, a major challenge for HERM, as well as for other KI research environments, is the decreasing availability of grants aimed to support strong research clusters.