Harriet Wallberg

Harriet Wallberg

Telephone: +46852486480
Visiting address: Solnavägen 9, Biomedicum C4, 17165 Solna
Postal address: C3 Fysiologi och farmakologi, C3 FyFa Integrativ Fysiologi, 171 77 Stockholm

About me

  • I am a Professor of Physiology and was the President (Vice-Chancellor) of Karolinska Institutet during the years 2004-2012. I served as the Secretary General of the Scientific Council for Medicine at the Swedish Research Council (2001-2003), and as University Chancellor and Head of the Swedish Higher Education Authority (2014-2016).

    Since 2004, I am a member of the Tokyo-based international Science and Technology in Society Forum (STS). I have also served as a member of the International Scientific Advisory Council to the Government of Singapore, a member of the Research Advisory Council to the Danish Government, a member of the Swedish Government's Science Policy Council, and a member of the Swedish Globalization Council. From 2002 to 2005, I was Vice President of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, a major European diabetes organization.

    I have been awarded with honorary doctorates from several international universities, as well as the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese Government. In 2008, I was honored with H. M. the King’s Medal for my distinguished achievements in medical education and research. I am a member of the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, which selects Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine.

    My book - Koll på diabetes typ 2
    Together with Professor Kerstin Brismar, I have written a book for people with type 2 diabetes called "Koll på diabetes typ 2". Professor Brismar and I have many years of experience in research, education, and counseling on type 2 diabetes. In this book, we outline what happens in the body when you suffer from the disease, how different medications work and what you yourself can do to feel better - today and in the future. The idea is that the book should be an inspiration to live a good life even with type 2 diabetes.

    "Koll på diabetes typ 2" is a practical handbook written in Swedish for people who want to take control of their diabetes. It is also a source of knowledge and understanding for anyone who meets and cares for people with type 2 diabetes as a relative or in the health care sector.


  • I made a unique discovery in the early 1980's as a visiting scientist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, USA. At that time, everyone was convinced that insulin was required to transport glucose into muscle cells. Together with Professor John O. Holloszy, I was able to provide evidence that contracting skeletal muscle stimulates glucose transport in muscle cells by an insulin-independent mechanism. This was contrary to the prevailing paradigm at that time. Thus, we were able to show that muscle contraction works in the same way as insulin in terms of stimulating glucose uptake, but that the signaling mechanisms differed. This finding explains why exercise is an important part of the treatment for type 2 diabetes.

    A major problem in people with type 2 diabetes is that the body becomes insulin resistant, ie that muscles, fat and liver do not respond to insulin properly. My research team has studied the molecular mechanisms behind insulin resistance. We have been able to show that the signalling pathways that activate the glucose transport molecules are partly inhibited in diabetes. The causes behind this insulin resistance might differ between people, but high levels of fat, stress hormones and inflammatory molecules clearly have a deleterious effect on insulin sensitivity.

    An exciting part of my research has been devoted to physical exercise, ie how exercise affects glucose metabolism in diabetes. We provided evidence that people with type 1 diabetes can perform exercise without deteriorating blood glucose control. In people with type 2 diabetes, we have been able to show that both Nordic walking and high intensity exercise training improves blood glucose control. A novel discovery is that the time during the day when exercising is performed can play an important role to achieve the positive effects of physical exercise on blood glucose control. This was an unexpected, but important finding, which is currently being explored in my laboratory with studies on the underlying causes and whether it applies to all types of exercise.


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