Niklas Björkström group

Niklas Björkström, Research group

Our group performs translational immunological research studying tissue-resident natural killer cells in the human liver and uterus.

A key focus of the group is to gain insights into the basic biology of tissue resident NK cells in liver and uterus. Through unique collaborations with clinical units at the Karolinska University Hospital, we receive a high number of tissue samples. With respect to the uterus, key questions of interest include detailed characterization of the uterine NK cell KIR receptor repertoires, functional studies of uterine tissue resident NK cells, as well as trying to elucidate the ontogeny of uterine NK cells. In the liver we have a specific focus on human tissue-resident CD49a+ intrahepatic NK cells and study their phenotype, function, development, and role during liver diseases.

Moreover, we have an interest in the role of natural killer (NK) cells in the pathogenesis of liver diseases such as primary sclerosing cholangitis, steatohepatitis (NASH), and hepatitis virus infections (HBV, HCV, HDV). These diseases strongly predispose for tumor development in the human liver and we are also performing tumorimmunological studies evaluating the capacity of NK cells to recognize hepatocellular carcinoma and cholagiocarcinoma. Outside the liver, we also have an interest in NK-cell function during hemorrhagic fever virus infections.

Our studies include phenotypic and functional assessments of NK cells with a focus on differentiation, education, and functional and transcriptional regulation. We work with high-dimensional 22-parameter flow cytometry, CyTOF, microscopy techniques, and new tools for visualization and analysis of highly complex flow cytometry data including SPADE, SNE, and Citrus.

We function in close collaboration with other groups at Karolinska Institutet, including groups at the Center for Infectious Medicine. We participate in Karolinska Institutet - Hannover Medical School exchange program, in the International PSC Study Group 


Selected publications from the Björkström lab


Niklas Björkström, Group Leader, MD PhD, Associate Professor

Niklas received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Karolinska Institutet in 2011. He completed postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Maryland, USA). Niklas established an independent laboratory at CIM, Karolinska Institutet in 2013 and is an associate professor at Karolinska Institutet since 2016. His research focuses on human tissue-resident NK cells with a particular emphasis on uterine and liver NK cells. In his spare time he enjoys fly fishing and playing golf.

Martin Cornillet, PhD, postdoctoral fellow 

Martin finished his PhD in 2014 that concerned the study of specific autoantibodies in Rheumatoid arthritis (Toulouse, France). He is now focusing on the development of Mass Cytometry to analyse immune cells, and particularly NK-cell phenotype and function in different contexts relating to liver physiology/pathophysiology. He likes cooking, practicing sports (karate, tennis, football...) and is interested in art and music discovering.

Lena Berglin, PhD, laboratory manager

Lena received her Masters degree in Molecular Cell Biology from Södertörns Högskola, Huddinge, in 2007 and her PhD from Karolinska Institutet in 2015. Her work focuses on understanding how the immune system contributes to the pathogenesis of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). One of the goals is to use immunohistochemistry to characterize immune cells and inflammatory proteins in livers from PSC patients. In her spare time she likes to be in the countryside, to cook and to read crime novels.

Martin Ivarsson, PhD, Assistant Professor

Martin received his PhD from Karolinska Institutet in 2014. After conducting postdoctoral studies in the group of Ashley Moffett at University of Cambridge, UK, Martin has returned to CIM and is now Assistant Professor. He focuses on studying uterine and decidual NK cells in the healthy woman and in different pregnancy disorders. When not at work, he enjoys playing with his daughter and to eat nice food.

Otto Strauss, MBChB PhD, Postdoctoral fellow 

Otto completed an MBChB at the University of Otago and then went on the complete a PhD at the University of Auckland in which he used multicolour flow cytometry and immunofluorescence to characterize endothelial and antigen presenting cells in the human liver.  His current work focusses on using microscopy to appreciate the microanatomy of the liver lobule and the relationship of leukocytes to this. He is an avid music, art and sports fan - especially of cricket and rugby.

Laura Hertwig, PhD, postdoctoral fellow

Laura received her Masters degree in Biochemistry (Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany) in 2011 and completed her PhD in the field of experimental neuroimmunology at the Humboldt Universität, Berlin, in 2016. In her postdoctoral studies she is conducting comparative characterizations of tissue-resident (TR) NK cells across multiple human tissues. Another goal of her studies is to better understand the implication of TR NK cell subsets from the intra- and extrahepatic bile ducts during primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). When not at work, Laura enjoys drawing, Scandinavian literature and documentary photography.

Christine Zimmer, PhD student

Christine received her Masters degree in Molecular Life Sciences from Stockholm University, Stockholm, in 2013. She is interested in understanding the capacity of natural killer cells to recognize and eliminate cholangiocarcinoma cells. When not at work, she enjoys sports, especially running and hiking.

Benedikt Strunz, MD, PhD-student

Benedikt graduated 2014 as a MD and additionally accomplished a Bachelor's degree in Biology (University of Tuebingen, Germany). His work so far was on the influence of chemotherapeutic drugs on NK cell reactivity, whereas now he focuses on the role of liver resident NK cells in HCV infected patients as well as phenotyping uterine NK cells. In his spare time he likes sports like cross country skiing and rowing, enjoys music and jazz concerts and loves the cinema.

Julia Hengst, PhD, postdoctoral fellow

Julia received her Masters degree in Molecular Medicine from the Georg-August University in Göttingen, Germany in 2012. She is currently a PhD-student out of Hannover Medical School through the International Research Training Group Program. Her research focus is NK-cells during hepatitis virus infections as well as methods development for analysis of limited numbers of immune cells by flow cytometry. When not at work, she enjoys sports, especially soccer and gymnastics.

Natalie StiglundMD, PhD-student

Natalie received her M.D. from Karolinska Institutet in 2016 and is currently a PhD-student. She is studying the role of NK-cells in fatty liver disease and development of steatohepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma. In her spare time, she enjoys playing tennis, reading, and travelling.

Isabella Sönnerborg, MD, PhD student. 

Isabella received her MD from Karolinska Institutet in 2015 and have been working at the Clinic for Transplantation Surgery at Karolinska Hospital since then. Her PhD project is a collaboration with the Department of Transplantation Surgery at CLINTEC. It focuses on intrahepatic and tissue resident lymphocytes in liver transplant patients, with a special focus on NK cells, and their relation to clinical events such as rejection and graft acceptance. In her spare time Isabella enjoys painting, listening to music and spending time with friends and family. 

Jonna Bister, MD/PhD-student

Jonna is currently attending medical school at the Karolinska Institutet and will finish in 2017. She did her medical thesis in the group and will continue with PhD-studies. She's interested in studying uterine NK cell development as well as factors regulating KIR repertoire formation in the uterus.

Erik Bergquist, MD-student. E-mail:

Erik is currently studying medicine at Karolinska Institutet and is due to graduate in 2020. Except for medical studies, he's also attending the research-preparatory program FoLÄK and has been working in the group since the summer of 2016. He is involved in optimizing phosflow protocols and to use these for immunological studies of liver tumors. On his time off he likes to cook, garden and hang out.

Ann-Charlotte Elkan, PhD, research nurse. E-mail:

Ann-Charlotte received her PhD in rheumatology at Karolinska Institutet 2009. She completed postdoctoral training, at the Institute of Environmental Medicine (IMM), Karolinska Institutet, where she was studying the impact of life style factors in developing rheumatic diseases 2011. She was also the initiator/manager and coordinator for a lifestyle clinic at the Dept. of Rheumatology, Karolinska University Hospital, 2011-2012. Ann-Charlotte is now going to coordinate and manage our research conducted at the Gastro Center, Karolinska University Hospital.

Iva Filipovic, Postdoctoral fellow

Iva completed her MSc in Immunology at Imperial College London where she studied NK cell development. She then went on to complete a PhD at the University of Cambridge in the field of reproductive immunology, with a particular focus on phenotypic and transcriptomic characterisation of tissue-resident innate lymphocytes in the uterus. She now continues to pursue her research interests in studying the roles of tissue-resident NK cells in the context of uterine and liver microenvironments in homeostasis and pathology. When not at work, Iva enjoys fitness, music and photography.

Previous members 

Sanna Nyström, now postdoc at University of Tokyo

Kimia Maleki, master-student, now PhD-student at Karolinska Institutet

Sebastian Lunemann, now postdoc at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf



Open positions

We are constantly looking for exceptionally talented post docs with an ambition to explore new and unique aspects of human NK cells, liver immunology, and related questions. 

Stiftelsen för Strategisk Forskning SSF












Tweets from Björkström lab

Infectious Disease Medicine