Mats Ulfendahl

Mats Ulfendahl

Affiliated to research

About me

I started Medical School at KI in 1981, got my PhD (Dept. of Physiology) in 1989, and was appointed Associate Professor (physiology) in 1991. In 1997 the ENT Clinic at the Karolinska Hospital recruited me as Lab Director to build up their research laboratory. During 2002-2010 I was also Director of the Center for Hearing and Communication Research at KI. Was appointed Professor of Experimental Audiology and Otology in 2004. Initiated and was until 2009 Director of a “FAS Center” running a 10-year research program focusing on hearing impairment in working life. During three years (2007-2009) I was member of the Scientific Council for Medicine at the Swedish Research Council (VR). Was appointed Secretary-General for Medicine and Health at VR 2010 (a six-year term ending in 2015). Was among many other assignments responsible for a trans-European cooperation structure for research and policy issues related to antibiotic resistance, the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (chair 2010-2016). Been a member of the National Priority Board for Highly Specialized Health Care (Rikssjukvårdsnämnden), the Board of the Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services (SBU), the Decision-Making Board for the National Quality Registers, the National Steering group for the ALF Agreement etc. Around the time I was appointed Secretary-General I moved my research group back to the KI Campus and joined the Department of Neuroscience. During 2016-2017 I chaired an international expert panel appointed by the European Commission to evaluate the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). Member of international expert panels evaluating the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR; 2016-2017), and the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP; ongoing). In 2016 I was elected chairman of the board of the Swedish Society for Medical Research (SSMF), and chairman of the Delegation for research of the Swedish Society for Medicine (Svenska Läkaresällskapet). In 2017, I was appointed chairman of the board of Forskningsinstitutet Hörselbron AB, a non-profit organisation that among other things has established a unique national quality register for hearing aids. Co-author of a Swedish textbook in physiology (the 6th edition published in 2017).

Research description

My research is focused on the auditory system, and especially the function of the hearing organ and how it is affected by trauma. My PhD thesis was about the inner ear sensory cells and the structural and functional basis for their motile properties. During my PhD work I initiated a long-term and very fruitful collaboration with a research group a Columbia University (New York) investigating the motion pattern of the intact hearing organ (was Associate Research Scientist at Columbia Univ. 1989-90). We established an in vitro model of the guinea pig inner ear and made unique measurements of extremely small sound-evoked vibration using laser interferometry (a method we some years later set up at the ENT Research Laboratory at the Karolinska Hospital). We could demonstrate that the inner ear sensory cells (the outer hair cells) have a key role in the motion pattern of the hearing organ and thus for the sensitivity of the peripheral auditory system. My group also studied mechanical properties at the cellular level using isolated sensory cells, e.g. using atomic force microscopy. We have, for example, shown that the mechanical characteristics of the sensory cells are affected by acoustic overstimulation, a finding that may explain the temporary hearing impairment caused by noise exposure. We also used confocal microscopy and advanced image analysis tools to directly visualise the hearing organ and how it is affected by sound. Among other things, we published the first confocal microscopy images of the inner ear in the living quinea-pig. After moving to the Karolinska Hospital the focus of my research gradually changed to the mechanisms underlying hearing disorder and how to treat hearing impairment. We have primarily worked with an animal model, in which we can directly (using sound- or electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses) monitor how the auditory function is affected by different intervention strategies. Several studies (e.g. two recently completed EU projects) have investigated structural and functional effects of neurotrophic factors but we have also explored antioxidants, cell therapy approaches, and entirely novel substances. 

Academic honours, awards and prizes

The Swedish Dental Society's Honorary Award 2016; Honorary Doctor (Dr h.c.) of Odontology, Malmö University College 2016; The Petrus and Augusta Hedlund 40-year anniversary award (4 MSEK) 2001; Guest Professor, Anhui Medical School (Hefei, Kina) 2000.