Photo: Camilla Breiler
SciLifeLab in Solna, Stockholm. Photo: Camilla Breiler

It is now ten years since SciLifeLab opened its doors. The Swedish national research infrastructure for life science has two nodes: one at Karolinska Institutet and one in Uppsala. SciLifeLab is hosted by Karolinska Institute, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University and Uppsala University, but the majority of major Swedish higher education institutions also conduct research with ties to the facility. While funding is largely provided by the host universities and government appropriations, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is also an important financier. The European Research Council and other overseas financiers are also important to the research conducted here.

Sixteen research groups from Stockholm University

Photo: Eva Dalin
Ylva Engström Photo: Eva Dalin

There are 16 research groups from Stockholm University working at SciLifeLab. Ylva Engström, professor at the Department of Molecular Biosciences’ Wenner-Gren Institute and vice dean of the Faculty of Science, is SciLifeLab’s integration director and therefore Stockholm University’s foremost representative at the facility. In Professor Engström’s opinion, SciLifeLab has provided Swedish researchers with access to highly advanced technology and expertise that individual departments or universities would otherwise not have been able to build up, something that has been a huge boost to research in many fields.
“We have made great progress, both in terms of research projects and technological development. One of the most successful investments has been made possible by the four universities agreeing to make significant resources available to recruit young researchers at associate senior lecturer level – the so-called SciLifeLab fellows. Finding these young researchers has been a splendid development for both SciLifeLab and their home departments,” says Ylva Engström.

An internationally recognised facility

Another professor at the Department of Molecular Biosciences’ Wenner-Gren Institute, Per Ljungdahl, has recently taken up the post of director of SciLifeLab Campus Solna. On the question of the most important achievements of SciLifeLab, he highlights its development into an internationally recognised research facility that offers exceptional opportunities for experimental research in molecular biosciences. He believes that the explanation for this success lies in the joint investment the four host universities have chosen to make in developing a high-tech research facility that no single Swedish university could have achieved. This national infrastructure has provided benefits for researchers all over Sweden.

According to Professor Ljungdahl, the high-tech facilities at SciLifeLab make it possible for Swedish researchers to conduct innovative experiments.
“The national significance and impact of SciLifeLab continues to increase, something reflected not least in the fact that both the Swedish Research Council and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation have approached SciLifeLab with additional investments to implement and coordinate research into molecular and medical biology linked to COVID-19.”

Per Ljungdahl also feels that SciLifeLab bears up very well to international comparison. SciLifeLab researchers are highly respected in fields such as bioinformatics, structural biology, transcriptomics and proteomics, and many of these techniques have been developed at SciLifeLab.

Increased interaction with other universities

Stockholm University has been involved in building up robust research and infrastructure environments at SciLifeLab, including Cryo-EM, Bioinformatics and Ancient DNA.
“By participating in SciLifeLab, Stockholm University has increased its interactions with Karolinska Institutet and KTH in particular, but even with Uppsala University. This has created many broad collaborations in research but also in education,” says Ylva Engström, who is also keen to highlight the joint master’s programme that has attracted many applications, including from international students who now have the opportunity to see what the Stockholm region has to offer in the field of life science.

Researching ancient DNA

It is not only researchers from the Faculty of Science who are active at SciLifeLab; research at the Ancient DNA facility falls within the remit of the Faculty of Humanities’ Centre for Palaeogenetics (CPG). Together with researchers from Uppsala University, the facility has been developed to analyse degraded DNA but has also conducted outstanding research and is the university’s superuser of the genomics platform.

 So, what does the future look like for SciLifeLab?
“Extremely positive. It is an enormous asset to Sweden and the Stockholm region to have SciLifeLab as both a service facility and as a research environment on Campus Solna, which we are working hard to develop even further. SciLifeLab is a major asset to the researchers and teachers that are already here, but it also strengthens our ability to recruit talented young researchers and even more senior researchers. It is a real attraction,” says Ylva Engström.

She is also keen to point out that effective testing could be quickly built up during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the knowledge and laboratories that were already in place.
“A high concentration of expertise and research activities will always lead to important advances, even if today we have no idea what they might be.”

Vital infrastructure for Swedish life science

Gunnar von Heijne, professor at the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, has been conducting research at SciLifeLab since the facility opened. He is now director of the national facility for cryogenic electron microscopy, Cryo-EM, where he also conducts his own research.
“The fact of SciLifeLab’s existence makes it possible for us to conduct cryo-EM studies that would otherwise hardly be possible.”

A number of international assessments have also demonstrated that SciLifeLab is internationally competitive and conducts relevant research.
“As infrastructure, SciLifeLab is extraordinarily important for Swedish life science and enjoys a strong status internationally. And of course, during the coronavirus pandemic SciLifeLab has also shown itself to have direct social relevance,” says Gunnar von Heijne.

SciLifeLab in numbers

In 2019, SciLifeLab’s total turnover was SEK 761 million. The research infrastructure employed 466 people, of whom 71% were PhDs. There were 200 research leaders and research groups operating at SciLifeLab. Since 2013, when SciLifeLab was appointed as national research infrastructure, operations have been conducted at the majority of major Swedish higher education institutions, meaning that researchers all over the country can use the equipment and knowledge available at SciLifeLab. Academic researchers pay a subsidised fee for the use of the infrastructure.

Learn more on the SciLifeLab website at