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Interview Karolina Kublickiene

Doctor, researcher, leader and mother. Karolina Kublickiene, CEO of Center for Gender Medicine at Karolinska Institutet, explains why sex and gender in biomedicine are essential to accelerate innovation at Karolinska Institutet.

How did you became interested in Gender Medicine?

KK: I became interested primarily because of my scientific career. I obtained my PhD degree in 1997 at KI with a thesis on pregnancy induced complications. I later worked on estrogen receptors, hormonal therapy and cardiovascular function.

At the time, Jan-Åke Gustafsson (Novum, KI) and Michael E. Mendelsohn (Tufts, Boston, US) discovered that mice deficient for estrogen-receptor beta (one of the two estrogen receptors in human and mice) developed hypertension, but such phenomenon happened predominantly in male. Back then, physiology had little interest for the inclusion of sex, unless it directly involved the study of hormones. That discovery was among the firsts to point to a link between hormone and cardiovascular diseases.

How can you couple medical practice and research?

My close collaboration with women’s health department here at Karolinska University hospital and in the cardiology division of Department of Medicine allows me to accomplish both, and I am really grateful for that. Though I know it's very difficult, and doctors don't have much time, the medical profession disconnected from research is a missed opportunity.

Why did you decided to become director of the center?

I have been granted previously by the center and applying for the CEO position seemed the natural step forward. One of the reason I embarked in this adventure is because I believe that Gender Medicine is on the same trajectory of personalized medicine, the upcoming frontier of medical practice in Europe and in the rest of the world. We now starting to understand how medications may affects the opposite sex differently (, janus info) and many diseases have difference in frequency, development, presentation of symptoms between female and male. We must begin to take this into account not only when designing clinical trials or cohort studies, but already at the preclinical stage.

What the CfGM does to address the issue of sex and gender in biomedical research at KI?

Our task is to implement Sex and Gender perspective in KI and science to speed up innovation. To accomplish this, we split our efforts between educational implementation for doctoral and undergraduate students and research support, as well as we are communicating the importance of gender dimension to public and other decision makers.

The main target for the Center is education at all levels. This is very important for us: students are the beating heart of the future of biomedical research at Karolinska Institutet, which is heavily investing to elevate its international profile and impact. Sex and Gender perspective in science should not miss this opportunity, and we want young brains to see Sex and Gender not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity for their future research. The CfGM organise post-grad and undergrad courses, conferences, workshops and provided students with the tools and the resources necessary. In parallel, we continuously work with implementation of gender dimension in medical curriculum by using so called Future platform (Flexibel kommUnikativ inTerprofessionell Utbildnings och implementeRingsplattform för gEnusmedicinska aspekter för hälso- och sjukvård) based on traditional and web-based teaching and learning environments.

And for the researchers?

Equally important as education, it is the support to researchers. We allocate strategic investments that support projects that account for Sex and Gender. To name a few, this year we supported young investigators like Dr. Linda Mellbin, who will study different aspects of glucose abnormalities and cardiovascular disease or Dr. Alexey Shemyakin, whose research aims to boost the production of nitric oxide form the body to improve vascular function. Additionally, we promote research that still lacks Sex and Gender perspective, and immunology seems to be a new big area in which the Centre wants to become more involved.

Is a Centre like yours unique? Are there other people in Europe that try to achieve your same goals?

The CfGM is not alone in its efforts to bring better healthcare via sex and gender studies. We collaborate with Londa Schiebinger, CEO of Gendered Innovations in Science and professor of History of Science at Stanford University. We also collaborates with Virginia Miller, Professor, Surgery and Physiology at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota). Virginia and Londa are wonderful collaborators and give lectures at our postgraduate course on Sex and Gender aspects in biomedical research. As well as we have new partners for education Professors Katryn Mironuk from singularity university LA, USA where she stresses the importance of diversity for innovations of health care and Prof. Ian Banks from European men’s health forum to lift the importance of male perspectives in health care.

Finally we are the stakeholders at the European Gender Medicine network, a roadmap for all the gender medicine initiative in Europe, directed by Vera Regitz-Zagrosek from Berlin Charite University.

What is the future plan of CfG?

At the Karolinska, I am really pleased that we aim to excellence in research, and now we need to extend this to education. I think the Centre will play a fundamental part in this. I would also like to have the possibility to better support - financially and with other tools - all the researchers and young investigators, our “ambassadors” that may grow and strengthen an interest for gender dimension in their own field. We have to promote and support all the excellent research in KI, from neurodegenerative disorders, behavior, cardiovascular diseases and even the study of microbiota.

At last, the Centre aim to extend even further its collaboration with the industry, to bring more innovation to the service of patients, as well as to be directly involved with different patient organizations for patient empowerment. The multidisciplinary approach will definitely result in innovating mind set to insure the quality and competiveness for development of novel solutions and resources in health care for everyone.