Researching methods that can distinguish different kinds of thyroid cancer

Jan Zedenius is investigating cancer in the thyroid gland. He wants to understand the differences between various forms of the disease and how to detect these differences early so that all patients receive the treatment that suits them best.

Professor Jan Zedenius
Professor Jan Zedenius. Photo: David Bicho

Cancer of the thyroid affects around 600 people in Sweden every year, and is one of the most rapidly increasing forms of cancer in the world. In most cases the prognosis is good, but there are also very aggressive forms of the disease. Jan Zedenius wants to use his research to develop methods that will detect differences between the various forms of thyroid cancer at an early stage.

“Because we can’t differentiate, patients today basically receive a standard treatment programme. This means that we over-treat some and under-treat others. The goal of our research is to be able to tailor the treatment to each patient,” he explains.

Much of Zedenius’ research is based on a biobank that he and his colleagues have built up over several decades.

“It involves frozen endocrine tumour tissue from more than 4,000 patients stored from the 1980s until today. Because it is linked to clinical data, it’s a real gold mine.”

The knowledge that Zedenius’ group has helped acquire has enabled other groups to develop an effective drug against medullary thyroid cancer. The group has also shown that the protein Ki-67 can be used as a prognostic tool in thyroid cancer to better adapt treatment.

One common problem after thyroid cancer is paralysis of the vocal cords due to nerve damage. In collaboration with neuro¬specialists, Zedenius’ group has contributed to a new technique to restore the nerves and normal speech capability. The technique has been tried clinically on a number of patients with good results, and will be presented internationally in the autumn of 2017.

About Jan Zedenius

Professor of Surgery specialising in Endocrine Surgery at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery

Jan Zedenius was born in Stockholm in 1955 and was awarded his medical degree at KI in 1983. He acquired his physician licence in 1987 and surgeon licence in 1991. Zedenius was awarded his PhD by KI in 1995 and was a postdoc at the University of Sydney, Australia, from 1996 to 1997. He became a Senior Lecturer in 1999.

As a clinician, Jan Zedenius has been Senior Consultant at Sophiahemmet from 2014 to 2017 and, prior to this, has primarily worked at Karolinska University Hospital where he was also Head of Department from 2011 to 2014. On 1 October 2017, Jan Zedenius was appointed Professor of Surgery, specialisation Endocrine Surgery, at Karolinska Institutet, and Consultant at Karolinska University Hospital.

Text: Anders Nilsson, translated from Swedish, first published in “From Cell to Society” 2017.

View a video

Content reviewer: