Maria Eriksdotter: Dean, Leader and Enthusiast who strengthened the sense of community in Flemingsberg

After her four years as dean, Maria has successfully put KI South and Flemingsberg on the map. Maria is an enthusiast who has driven KI South forward in recent years with great commitment. Now that she is leaving her role as dean of Karolinska Institutet, we at the Flemingsberg Science Foundation reflect on all the progress and achievements she has made.

Curing and treating dementia
Maria Eriksdotter’s journey began as a medical student and PhD student at Karolinska Institutet, where she explored cellular degradation in Alzheimer’s disease. Her extensive experience and commitment to the field led her to become a senior physician in geriatrics at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge in 1999 and a professor of geriatrics at Karolinska Institutet in 2010.

– I found it rewarding and interesting to be a doctor and work clinically, but after fifteen years I wanted to go back to research, so I applied for and got a lectureship at KI combined with a senior physician position at Karolinska Huddinge, says Maria.

Despite Maria’s leading roles, she has always maintained a strong connection to her research, which focuses on the treatment and care of people, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease. Maria has delved into innovative areas and, among other things, conducted a cell therapy study with NGF, nerve growth factor, with a result that showed positive effects.

– What’s a bit special about me is that I have a background in basic science. I researched on rats, looked through microscopes, and examined proteins. So, I didn’t start with clinical research, but over time, I gradually approached it more and more, says Maria.

From Prefect to Dean
In the late 2010s, discussions emerged within the leadership regarding the reorganization of Karolinska Institutet and the recruitment of three deans who would assume the role of head over a number of institutions within one of three institutional groups. Each dean was tasked with overseeing an institutional group and representing it in the faculty board at KI. Maria was appointed as the dean for the southern institutional group.

Maria has previously served as the head of the NVS department, whose main activities are located at KI Campus Flemingsberg, and has also been an active researcher affiliated with NVS since 1991. This gives her a profound knowledge of the campus. As the dean of six institutions at KI Campus Flemingsberg and one institution at Södersjukhuset, Maria believes it is particularly exciting to have an increased opportunity to highlight KI South and Campus Flemingsberg on the academic map. With several profile areas, such as dementia diseases, hematology, infections, women’s and children’s health, metabolism, and advanced therapies, Maria realized the potential of a research environment with both strong basic and clinical research and close proximity to large patient groups as well as other universities, colleges, and companies. Uniting the campus and driving the development of these areas became an important strategy for Maria, and KI is now a clear and major player at Campus Flemingsberg.

– As a dean, I have been responsible for recruiting and leading a group of department heads who have been so motivated to lead. Together, we have been able to drive important issues for KI South, elevate them to KI’s leadership, and when necessary, collaborate with the hospital and region. At the same time, I have also continued to pursue my research line and research group in parallel. It has been difficult for me to let go of that,” says Maria Eriksdotter.

A Persistent Researcher and Leader
Maria has, to say the least, made significant strides for KI South during her years as dean. She has been a key figure in the establishment of the Center for Bioinformatics and Biostatistics (CBB) as well as a Center for Nutrition. According to Maria, these initiatives have not only been successful but have also continued to evolve over time. Another initiative that strengthens Campus Flemingsberg is the development of an ATMP (Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products) center for cell therapies, which is a collaboration between KI South and Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge.

– To foster greater cohesion among researchers at the institutions and the hospital, and to increase opportunities for collaboration, Annika Bergquist and I initiated the first “Collaboration In Science” conference, held at Neo in October 2021. I am very pleased that it took place and was so successful that we intend to continue it as a regularly occurring event. The next ‘Collaboration in Science’ conference will take place in November 2024.

– I have been persistent in my role as a researcher and leader. I also believe that it is important to think long-term and not be too concerned about prestige. One must not let go and give up; I believe that is a valuable trait, responds Maria.

But there are others who have seen Maria’s success and worked closely with her over the years, says Annika Bergquist, professor at Karolinska Institutet:

– Maria has an ability to see the big picture, but also the best interests of everyone. She leads by consensus and is incredibly good at getting people on board. She also has outstanding patience and a good sense of humor – Annika Bergquist.

What happens next?
Maria’s time as dean has come to an end, but her drive hasn’t slowed down. She is still the custodian of the world’s largest quality database, SveDem, a Swedish registry for over 120 thousand individuals with cognitive impairment and dementia diseases.

– As part of a directive from the rector, I will continue to lead and oversee the integration of a basic science institution (Bionut) with a clinical institution (MedH) within the South institutional group, which is expected to be completed by the mid-year transition. Both institutions have highly successful research and education programs that will be further strengthened by this merger, says Maria Eriksdotter.

– I will also continue with my Alzheimer’s research, focusing on my cells, my registry, and treatments. New Alzheimer’s drugs are coming out that we hope to follow up on through a module in SveDem. There are so many exciting things happening all the time. I will also be working clinically, and I’m really excited about that, Maria continues.

What does Flemingsberg mean to you?
Maria talks about how she believes it’s important to highlight Flemingsberg as a place, acknowledging that there are challenges at times, but emphasizing the positives and existing strengths here, as well as the great development opportunities.

– Much of the research conducted here is world-leading. For instance, we’ve established our ATMP center, where a drug can be developed from a substance and then taken to the clinic, essentially from start to finish. Although this center is relatively new, many of its components have been present in Flemingsberg for a long time.

– Primarily, Flemingsberg stands out due to the globally leading research conducted here, coupled with its unique proximity to the hospital. This wealth of expertise and closeness has fostered a strong sense of community in Flemingsberg, concludes Maria.

Published On: 6 March 2024
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