Swedish Research Council

Update January 2012

The Swedish Research Council is a government agency, under the authority of the Ministry of Education and Science, funding basic research of the highest scientific quality in all disciplines. The Swedish Research Council has a national responsibility to support and develop basic research and promote research innovation and research communication. The goal is for Sweden to be a leading nation in scientific research. Research has been divided into four fields: humanities and social sciences, medicine, natural and engineering sciences and educational science. For each of these, there is a Scientific Council. These Councils play a central part, and they promote and support basic research in their respective fields by distributing grants for various projects and research appointments. The Scientific Council for Medicine evaluates and assigns priorities for research in Medicine, Pharmaceutics, Odontology and the Care Sciences and, on behalf of the Swedish Research Council, awards grants in these fields. A large share of its research support has a direct focus on known diseases and health problems. In addition the research funded is concerned with clarifying general biological mechanisms which may be of significance for an understanding of disease processes and health problems. The bulk of the Council’s research support goes to projects initiated by researchers themselves and deemed most promising by other researchers, based on quality criteria, in the process of peer review. The Council supports very few programs. Among the programs are the Stem Cell Program and the Program in Care Sciences. Another prioritized area is support to young scientists. In the field of Medicine, the Swedish Research Council supports international collaboration in research through grants, provides representation in several European research organisations, and works with research councils in other countries to promote collaboration in, and coordination of, international medical research. The Scientific Council administers a research programme on stem-cell research in collaboration with the International Stem Cell Forum (ISCF).


The Swedish Research Council is the largest provider of public funds for Swedish basic research at Swedish higher education institutions and research institutes. In 2008, some 340 million € were distributed to research and research infrastructures. Out of these funds, the Scientific Council for Medicine allocated   € 90 million in research support, mainly through its yearly call for proposals that follows a bottom-up approach to support investigator-initiatsed research projects. In this scheme, between 5 and 6 million € is allocated to stem cell research.  The phase two of the Stem Cell Program together with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Swedish Association of Diabetes Research, with a combined budget of € 4 million, has funded 7 projects and ran from 2006 to 2008.  Two laboratories have received designated funding from the Scientific Council for Medicine to participate in the ISCI2 genetic stability project.   In addition to the research funding described above, the Government, in its 2008 Research and Innovation Bill areas chose 24 areas of strategic importance, where Swedish research is already world-class, and where society and the business sector have a major need for new knowledge. Stem cell research is one of these areas, and support will be given to two stem cell centers in Sweden after evaluation of applications from the universities. 

Recent developments
Derivation of hESC lines in two laboratories
  • Cellartis, Gothenburg: presently 33 lines, a part of them are sub-lines; differentiation to pharmaceutical testing.
  • Karolinska Institutet: presently 30 hESC lines + 7 clonal sublines from them; aiming at clinical grade cells.

These two laboratories are collaborating in the ISCI2 genetic stability project, with six lines from each laboratory supported by a grant from the Scientific Council for Medicine.

ISCI2 media comparison
  • Karolinska Institutet stem cell laboratory has been one of the four first step test laboratories together with Los Angeles, Wisconsin and Kyoto.
  • Defined media using two hESC lines in each laboratory, have been compared with Knockout Serum Replacement as a control medium.

This step has been finished, the analyses are ongoing.

A chemically defined hES culture system
  • A study in the EU project ESTOOLS.
  • In Karolinska Institutet, a chemically defined, completely xeno-free defined culture system has been identified and tested.
  • The chemically defined medium is composed of a TeSR1 and dialyzed human albumin instead of BSA.
  • Supported non-differentiated growth of 3 hESC lines (HS207, HS401, HS420) up to 30 passages.
Defined culture substrate
  • Recombinant human laminin (LN511) manufactured in human kidney cells (Expressed by hESC and many human organs) supported hES growth.
  • Other human laminins (such as LN332, LN411, LN111) did not support  the non-differentiated growth of hESC. 
iPS cells in Karolinska Institutet – University of Geneva collaboration
  • Several established iPS cell lines from skin fibroblasts.
  • Non-replicable lenti-viral vectors and Cre-Lox recombination to overexpress human OCT4, SOX2, NANOG and LIN28.
  • Cre-Lox recombination targets specific sequences of the DNA, minimizing the risk for cancer formation due to random insertion in to the host DNA.
  • The insertion sites can be identified, and the copy numbers can be counted.
A clean population of dopamine producing neurons established from hES 

In collaboration between two laboratorories in Karolinska Institutet and one in Lund University.

Many laboratories carry out hESC research in Sweden
  • In Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, almost 200 researches participated the hESC user meeting organized by the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee of the university, 19 January 2009.
  • Neural, cardiac, osteogenic differentiation etc.
  • hESC lines used also in the Universities of Lund (insulin producing cells, neural cells), Umeå (insulin producing) and Gothenburg, and in the Royal Technical University in Stockholm (neural).
Clinical phase II studies using mesenchymal stem cells
  • Mesenchymal stem cells have proved capable of immunomodulation.
  • A laboratory/clinic at Karolinska institutet has successfully treated severe graft versus host reaction using transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells.
  • This new important clinical application is now at phase II studies in a large international network lead by Karolinska Institutet.

According to the current legislation, adopted January 1 2005, research on stem cells from fertilised eggs is permitted under the conditions formulated in the Act concerning research on fertilised eggs. Research is permitted during the first 14 days after fertilisation. The legislation also permits somatic cell nuclear transfer in the context of research. There is an explicit, unequivocal ban on human reproductive cloning. All research projects involving humans are to be subject to approval by a regional ethics committee. The procedure for this application does not differ for research projects involving human stem cells.  There is public and political support of stem cell research in Sweden.  

Communication and public outreach – Stem Cell Directive

In 2006 the government commissioned the Swedish Research Council to strengthen stem cell research in Sweden and also make an inquiry concerning the funding consequences for Swedish researchers in the field with respect to the EU 7th Frame Work Program for research. An information initiative is part of this commission and encompasses the following:

  • The public, with the aim to increase awareness of stem cell research. A brochure with the title “Research and Stem cells” was produced featuring interviews with stem cell scientists in Sweden, as well as articles on ethics, funding and legislation with regard to stem cells. 
  • Scientists. To keep the research community updated on political and strategic measures with impact for stem cell research.

A questionnaire was sent to stem cell scientists in Sweden to monitor the need for further information. In general, Swedish stem cell researchers are well informed about the EU 7th Frame Work Program restrictions. 

  • Politicians. To encourage discussions with a long-term perspective, focusing on both research opportunities but also challenges for stem cells to develop into therapies and use in the pharmaceutical industry.

The “Research and Stem cells” brochure has been disseminated to politicians and policy makers. A seminar for politicians was held in the spring 2008, organized by the Swedish Research Council and with participation of a well renowned stem cell scientist.


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