The Karolinska Institute is expanding outside Sweden for the first time and establishing a research centre in Hong Kong.
After a donation of $50 million (£41 million) from Hong Kong businessman Ming Wai Lau, the institute is setting up in the city to further develop its work in regenerative medicine – with a view to eventually finding ways of replacing damaged or lost tissue.
“This is a natural step for KI,” said acting vice-chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright, “given our ambition of continuing to be a leading international university in medical research. Hong Kong is a global hub for research and innovation and provides unique opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange.”
The Ming Wai Lau Centre for Reparative Medicine will be devoted to basic research in areas such as biomedical engineering, gene editing and bioinformatics as well as translational research in using stem cells to regenerate the heart, liver and nervous systems.
There are separate “nodes” to the centre in Stockholm and Hong Kong.
Within three years, when the Hong Kong centre is up and running, explained scientific director Ola Hermanson, “we are aiming to have about five research groups encompassing 40 to 45 researchers and five to eight other personnel”.
He said that in Sweden, the project had already appointed six grant recipients, with four more planned over the next three years, and it is envisaged that those senior research leaders will use the grants to take on teams of two to three additional people.
“In the beginning, the Stockholm node will be virtual and not have its own building, but in the second quarter of 2018, five of our major departments move into the same building, giving us an opportunity to gather most of these ‘Lau grant’ recipients under the same roof.”
There will be close links between the two locations.
“It is our goal that the Lau faculty in Hong Kong and the Lau grant recipients in Stockholm will work both on joint and related projects,” said Dr Hermanson, and they have “already started to have common seminar series, doctoral courses, workshops and symposia”.
“Much of the best stem-cell research today is being done in Asia,” continued Dr Hermanson, “and KI wants to be a part of it.”
The longer-term vision, he said, is to “invite the local universities in Hong Kong to collaborate and to make the Lau Centre nodes in Stockholm and Hong Kong ‘hubs’ for KI and other Swedish universities to interact with Hong Kong universities and, ultimately, other Asian regions such as the nearby Shenzhen and Guangzhou areas, and vice versa.
“KI has long-standing collaborations with major universities in mainland China, Singapore and Japan, for example, and we now hope to benefit from this.”
The announcement follows a difficult year for the institute, which has been engulfed in the row over the controversial Italian surgeon and former Karolinska professor Paolo Macchiarini.