Niklas Björkström group - Human tissue-resident NK cells

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

Niklas Björkström with some members of his research group at CIM, MedH. Photo: N/A

About our research

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.

Natural killer (NK) cells

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.

Group leader

Niklas Björkström

Principal researcher
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Niklas Björkström 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 in 2013 and is 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.

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. Contact the Group leader:

Group members

Martin Cornillet Jeannin

Research coordinator
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Martin Cornillet is PhD, Research Coordinator, 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 finished his PhD in 2014 that concerned the study of specific autoantibodies in Rheumatoid arthritis (Toulouse, France).

On his spare time he likes cooking, practicing sports (karate, tennis, football) and is interested in art and music discovering.

Lena Berglin

Senior lab manager
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Lena Berglin obtained her PhD from Karolinska Institutet in 2015. During her research studies, her main focus was to try to understand how the immune system contributes to the pathogenesis of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and bile duct cancer. She is specialized within the field of immunohistochemistry and quantitative image analysis, techniques that she now assists other group members with, as well as collaborators outside the group.

In her spare time she likes to be in the countryside, to cook and to read crime novels.

Martin Ivarsson

Assistant professor
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Martin is leading the team Human uterine immune cells in endometrium and pregnancy within the Niklas Björkström group.

Martin received his PhD from KI in 2014 and then focused on the development of human fetal natural killer (NK) cells. He then received a Wenner-Gren postdoctoral fellowship and used this to conduct postdoctoral studies at University of Cambridge, UK. Here he developed his interest for uterine immunology and in 2017 he returned to CIM to establish this line of research. Since 2018 he is an Assistant Professor and in 2020, he was awarded a startup grant from Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) to further study uterine immunology.

When Martin is not working, he enjoys spending time with his two daughters, to go for a run and to sample new food and drinks.

Iva Filipovic

Postdoctoral researcher
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Iva Filipovic 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. As Postdoctoral Fellow, 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. 

Christopher Maucourant

Postdoctoral researcher
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Christopher Maucourant received his Master Degree in immunology and cancerology in 2016. He completed his PhD in 2019 at Sorbonne University in Paris, France, in the field of the signaling pathways involved in NK cells during different arbovirus infections. During his postdoctoral studies, he will characterize tissue-resident NK cells from multiple human tissues, as well as studying the immune response during liver cirrhosis.

When not at work, Christopher enjoys athletics (competition at national and international level), cooking, playing piano and to travel.

Benedikt Strunz

Affiliated to research
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Benedikt Strunz graduated 2014 as a MD and additionally accomplished a Bachelor's degree in Biology (University of Tuebingen, Germany). He did his PhD-studies in our group focusing on NK cells in viral infections as well as on uterine NK cells and defended in 2020.

Now he is combining postdoctoral work in the group with training in clinical microbiology.

In his spare time he likes sports like cross country skiing and rowing, enjoys music and jazz concerts and he loves the cinema.

Natalie Stiglund 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.

Jonna Bister received her MD from Karolinska Institutet in 2018 and is currently a PhD-student. She is studying uterine NK cell development as well as factors regulating KIR repertoire formation in the uterus.

In her spare time Jonna enjoys travelling and go to restaurants.

Emma Patey

PhD student
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Emma Patey received her integrated Masters degree in Immunology from the University of Glasgow in 2020. Her Masters placement at Institut Pasteur involved understanding the role of epigenetic modifications on host-pathogen interactions.

Emma is studying the cellular ontogeny of innate lymphocytes seeding peripheral tissues in murine models, and will later focus on understanding the role of NK cells in the human uterus in the context of pregnancy.

In her free time, Emma enjoys socializing with friends, hiking and eating in restaurants.

Daniel Geanon

PhD student
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Daniel Geanon earned his Bachelor's degree in Biology and Global Health at Washington University in St. Louis in 2017. More recently, he worked as an Associate Researcher at Mount Sinai's Human Immune Monitoring Center in New York, New York. There, he focused on leveraging systems level immune profiling technologies (i.e. CyTOF, scRNA-seq) in a diverse range of translational research projects, from profiling tumor infiltrating lymphocytes in cancer to peripheral blood immunophenotyping in COVID-19 and MIS-C.

At Karolinska Institutet, his studies will focus on tissue resident T and NK cells in inflammatory diseases, as well as contributing to KI's ongoing COVID-19 research effort.

In his freetime, Daniel enjoys playing football and spending time outdoors hiking and cycling.

Corinna Mayer

PhD student
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Corinna Mayer earned her Master’s degree in Biomedicine at Karolinska Institutet in 2021. Her MSC thesis project was bout the expression and function of CD96 (Tactile) on uterine NK (uNK) cells, supervised by Martin Ivarsson.

As a PhD student she profiles uNK cells from patients undergoing IVF treatment and patients suffering from neutropenia which allows her to tackle questions about the outcome of pregnancies, and the role of neutrophils on uNK cells.

Besides projects focusing on reproductive immunology, Corinna works on COVID-19 related projects as well.

In her spare time, she likes being outside, spending time with family and friends and eating good food, especially pastries.

Katharina Schott

Research assistant
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Katharina Schott received her Master’s degree at the University of Vienna in 2021. As a research assistant, she is in charge of biobanking cells from uterine tissues that are instrumental for several projects. In addition she is involved in various experimental work.

In her free time, she enjoys travelling, being out in nature and baking.

Andrea Ponzetta

Senior research specialist
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Andrea Ponzetta is leading the team Unconventional T cells in human pathology within the Niklas Björkström research group. Andrea has been at CIM since 2020. He is currently interested in the biology of innate-like lymphocytes and in their impact in human tumors.

In 2014 Andrea completed his PhD in Immunology at Sapienza University of Rome, where he focused on NK cell trafficking and development. He then moved as a postdoctoral fellow to Humanitas Clinical and Research Center in Milan to study the role of neutrophils in carcinogenesis in solid tumors and their interaction with unconventional T cells.

When not at work, Andrea enjoys travelling, cooking and hiking.

Itzel Medina Andrade

Postdoctoral studies
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Itzel Medina is part of Andrea Ponzetta´s research team, studying the functional potential of unconventional T cells in human pathology. Itzel received her PhD in Biomedical Science in 2022 at National Autonomous University of Mexico, FES-Iztacala.

Her research project was focused on determining the impact of macrophages without the IL-4Rαexpression during colon cancer associated with inflammation. She also collaborated in other projects that involved the role of regulatory T cells in colon cancer and the secreted and excreted antigens of Taenia crassiceps as modulators of inflammation.

In her free time Itzel enjoys drawing, listening to music, reading classic novels and visiting new places.

Annika Niehrs

Postdoctoral researcher
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Annika Niehrs obtained her PhD from the University of Hamburg in 2019 focusing on the identification of new receptor-ligand interactions for human NK cells. As Postdoctoral Fellow she now studies the dynamics of tissue-residency in a model of liver transplantation and immune cell responses in the context of chronic HBV infection.

When not at work, Annika enjoys reading, going to restaurants and being in nature.

Jules Russick

Postdoctoral researcher
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Jules Russick completed his PhD in Immunology at Centre de Recherche des Cordeliers (Paris) where he studied the anti-FVIII immune response in hemophilia A. For his first postdoctoral position, he joined Isabelle Cremer’s lab which works on the tumor microenvironment (TME) in lung cancer. His project aimed at analyzing NK cell functions and maturation in human sample and in a murine model of lung cancer.

At CIM, he works on the tissue-resident NK cell in HCC.

When not at work, Jules enjoys cooking, climbing and travel.

H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Rebecca Maltez de Sousa obtained her MSc degree in Biomedicine from Karolinska Institutet in 2021. Her MSc thesis project focused on the role of FOXO1 and FOXO3 transcription factors in human NK-cell maturation and function. After finishing the MSc degree, Rebecca worked as a research engineer with the Human Protein Atlas, where she mapped subcellular protein localization. 

In 2022 she began her PhD studies in the Andrea Ponzetta team, where she is studying dynamic alterations of the immune landscape in gastroesophageal cancer (GEAC).  

In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys baking cakes and painting. She also likes to spend time outdoors and tending to her garden.

Nataliia Petryk

Postdoctoral researcher
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Nataliia Petryk obtained her M.D in 2006 and is a gynecologist and surgeon by training. She got a Ph.D. from the Kharkiv National Medical University, Ukraine, in 2021, focusing on chronic inflammation and stem cells. As a Postdoctoral Fellow, she studies uterine immunology and is working on implementing IBEХ. 

Natalie enjoys learning new physical activity, eating delicious food and contemplating nature when not at work. 

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
  • Julia Hengst, now Production Manager at Miltenyi Biotech
  • Erik Bergquist, now MD-student at Karolinska Institutet
  • Otto Strauss, now working in Medical Affairs in Rare Diseases at Pfizer in London. 
  • Christine Zimmer, now working at Glaxo Smith Kline, Germany, but will soon proceed with postdoctoral studies.
  • Isabella Sönnerborg now Physician at Kalmar Regional Hospital
  • Laura Hertwig, now Flow Operations Technical Lead at Covance, Genève
  • Ann-Charlotte Elkan, previously PhD, Research nurse, now retired