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Mapping the organ-specific immune system  Karolinska Institutet

Mapping the organ-specific immune system Karolinska Institutet



Professor Niklas Björkström Photo: Erik Flegg

what are you looking for

– I conduct research on the immune system in various tissues such as the uterus, liver, and bile ducts. In the past decade, we have realized that many immune cells reside in tissues and therefore vary greatly between different organs.

what do you want to know?

We study the healthy function of the immune system and its role in diseases such as chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases, pregnancy complications, and cancer. The goal is to develop better diagnostics and find targets for new treatments.

We recently published the first description of the immunohistochemical landscape of bile ducts. Many pharmaceutical companies have shown interest and we hope that our findings will contribute to making the treatment of inflammatory diseases of the bile ducts possible.

Regarding the liver immune system, my group has done a lot of research on its role in hepatitis C. In the next few years, we will participate in a European project on hepatitis B/D. We are also studying the immune system in the liver and adipose tissue to understand how low-grade inflammation is involved in obesity – which in turn often leads to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver.

Regarding the uterus, we want to know how its immune system changes during pregnancy and how this affects the risk of various complications. In a study of twins, we saw that the immune system in the womb is greatly influenced by environmental factors.

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What’s next?

-We had to disassemble the cells to analyze them, one by one. Rapid technological development now makes it possible to study them in 3D tissue. Then we can see how they relate to each other. We are just at that step.

Text: Anders Nilsson
First published in English in the article “From Cell to Society 2023”