In 2020 a working group chaired by Urban Lendahl delivered an analysis of the research activities at KI South. This analysis was performed on the initiative of the dean, Maria Eriksdotter. The analysis (in Swedish) concluded that “there are many examples of excellent research [at KI South]”. However, “…it is noted that there is insufficient (“mindre god”) knowledge of activities that take place in research groups other than those that are part of the immediate research environment, and above all between basic research and clinical groups”. The analysis states that “…there should be great potential for improvement” when it comes to knowledge of – and interaction between – the different research groups and actors on KI South.
It is in this context that the meeting on “Collaboration in Science 2022” is so important. This meeting – held in NEO, Campus Flemingsberg, 6th – 7th of October – aims at strengthening and promoting translational research collaborations at KI South, primarily between KI and the Karolinska University Hospital. Annika Tibell (Director for Research, Education, and Innovation at the Karolinska University Hospital) and I were given the privilege of opening the meeting. In our opening dialogue we echoed the conclusions of the Lendahl report: research at KI South is excellent, but at the same time there are opportunities for unleashing new synergies and boosting translational research, not least by taking full advantage of the rich patient flows in the hospital. The prerequisites for moving ahead are in place.
Proximity is key
One essential prerequisite or competitive edge is “proximity”. We know that even in the digital world of ours, personal contacts matter. Ideas are generated and strengthened – and new collaborations are formed – through physical interactions. The compactness of the Campus Flemingsberg is rather unique and opens for a richness of collaborations conducive to world-leading research. Many interactions are in place already but there should be place for many more. Not only between the different research environments at KI and the hospital, but also with the other actors on campus – such as private enterprises and other universities.
In fact, when it comes to “proximity” we are better off than Kendall Square in Boston – my favorite life science hub outside of Sweden. Kendall Square is arguably one of the strongest life science environments in the world, but it is physically separated from the Massachusetts General Hospital by the more than 500 metre long Longfellow Bridge. At our Northern campus, to reach the hospital we just have to cross Solnavägen. At KI South the hospital is even closer. Only the narrow Blickagången separates NEO from our main collaborative partner. We are as close as it gets.
The meeting today attested to the high quality of research at KI South. At the same time, it pointed to new opportunities. Might I suggest that this meeting should not stand as a singular event, but that it be followed up by further events aiming at strengthening communication and interactions on campus. Obviously, these endeavors must not occur at the expense of interactions between KI South and KI North. Strengthening research at either campus must be seen as a way to strengthen KI as a whole.
This takes me back to the title of this blog: unleashing opportunities at KI South is fine, but the ultimate aim must be to strengthen the entire university. When energy is invested in promoting internal collaborations within the individual institution groups, an equal amount of energy should be invested in promoting collaborations between them. Only then can we realise the full potential of our university.
Thanks to Maria Eriksdotter (dean KI South) and Annika Bergquist (Site Director, Karolinska University Hospital) for organising this meeting, together with the Scientific Committee – a great initiative indeed.
The meeting highlighted several examples of breakthrough research from KI South including research on COVID-19 immune responses. In this area, KI – as a single university – was recently ranked in eighth place worldwide – in a list that contained not only individual universities but also networks of research institutions such as the University of California system (#1) and Inserm in France (#3).