Associate Professor

Carolina Hagberg

Principal researcher

The Hagberg team integrates vascular biology with nutrient biochemistry to study how our adipose tissue handles overnutrition, and if we can uncouple obesity from the development of metabolic diseases

About me

Originally from Helsinki, Finland, I did my Ph.D. with Ulf Eriksson at MBB, Karolinska Institutet (KI) studying the metabolic role of the vascular growth factor VEGF-B, which was published in two consecutive Nature papers (Hagberg et al, Nature 2010 & 2012). I then went on for a postdoctoral visit to EPFL in Switzerland in the laboratory of Profs. Auwerx and Schoonjans to study energy metabolism and mitochondrial function. Returning to KI I joined the lab of Kirsty Spalding (at that time situated at ICMC in KI Huddinge) to study human adipose tissue and its role in metabolic disease, finding that mature adipocytes endoreplicate during obesity and in response to chronic insulin stimulation can become senescent (Li & Hagberg et al, Nature Medicine 2021). I also was involved in developing novel methods to study mature adipocytes, a notoriously difficult cell type to study due to their high lipid content (Hagberg et al, Cell Reports 2018).

In 2019 after receiving a KI faculty-funded position as Assistant Professor I got the chance to set up my own lab, relocating to the Cardiovascular Medicine Division at the Department of Medicine Solna (and also part of CMM), where I now head a team of four scientists. In 2019 I also received a VR Starting Grant, and our research has been awarded numerous other grants such Åke Wiberg, Jeanssons Stiftelser and KI KID funding. The lab has just published our first paper, describing a novel in vitro model to study human adipose tissue development and hypertrophy called HUVAS (human unilocular vascularized adipocyte spheroids)(Ioannidou et al, Journal of Physiology, 2021).

Research description

Our research centers around obesity and obesity-induced conditions such as insulin resistance and dyslipidemia, asking why weight gain leads to disease development in some, but not all, obese individuals. We believe the answer lies in how the adipose tissue expands and functions, and that by identifying early pathological triggers connected to adipose tissue nutrient uptake and utilization, we could better understand the pathological processes connected to weight gain. Our goal is to enable the development of preventive treatment strategies that could protect overweight patients against falling ill in the first place, improving both patient care and life quality.

Given my background in vascular biology and our current location at the Cardiovascular Medicine Division at Karolinska Institutet, we have a particular interest in the reciprocal interaction between adipocytes and blood vessels, both during differentiation and in health and disease. To understand human adipose tissue physiology, we use a combination of clinical fat biopsies and 3D cultured in vitro adipose tissue models, and use inducable research animals to study inter-organ cross-talk and systemic metabolism in vivo. Current projects focus on the regulatory role of the vascular endothelium, on deciphering how cholesterol loading impacts adipose tissue function, and on the metabolic demands of cell growth. We are a young, dynamic research group located on the 8th floor of BioClinicum in Solna always open for students and interesting opportunities to collaborate.

Teaching portfolio

- Lecturer on several graduate and undergraduate courses in genetics, cell biology, adipose biology and vascular biology (KI, 2007- present). 

- Vice-responsible for the course Från Ägg till Embryo for KI medical students (2014-2015)

- Principal thesis supervisor for 7 BSc and MSc students and past co-supervisor for one Ph.D student.



Post-doctoral fellow at ICMC, MedH, Karolinska Institutet, lab of Kirsty Spalding  (2013-2018)

Post-doctoral fellow at EPFL, Switzerland, lab of Profs. Johan Auwerx and Kristina Schoonjans (2013)

Ph.D. in Cell- and Molecular Biology, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden (2006-2011)

MSc in Biochemistry, University of Helsinki, Finland (1999-2006)

Academic honours, awards and prizes

 Prize for “Best Swedish pre-clinical doctoral thesis 2011 within the field of diabetes” by the Swedish Association of Diabetology 

 Prize for “Best M.Sc. thesis in Biochemistry in 2006” at the University of Helsinki 

 Faculty-funded position as Assistant Professor at Karolinska Institutet (2019-2022)