Unnur Valdimarsdottir

Principal researcher

About me

In addition to serving as guest professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, I am a professor of epidemiology and vice dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Iceland.  My research lies on the boundaries of psychiatric and cancer epidemiology with the main emphasis on understanding how psychological stress influences major disease onset and development.

Research description

The overarching aim of my research program is to understand how various indices of psychological stress affect health and disease development during the life course. Another important aim of my research is to understand the genetics of favorable vs. adverse health outcomes in populations exposed to severe life stressors. I lead a graduate program in public health sciences at the University of Iceland, and a research group of several doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty. In collaboration with an extended network of researchers from Sweden (e.g. Drs. Fang Fang and Katja Fall) and the US, we utilize the nationwide registries together with prospective cohorts with biomarker collections to address these hypotheses. Currently, my main research projects are the following:

  • Population-based registry studies in the Nordic countries of the impact of psychological stressors on disease development and progression (mostly based in Sweden).
  • The Genetics of survival and morbidity following exposure to extreme stressors (based at deCODE Genetics, Iceland)
  • The genetics of posttraumatic stress disorder in Swedish tsunami survivors.
  • The stress-response to a cancer diagnosis and disease progression (e.g. LUNG cancer project based in Reykjavik, Iceland; PROCESS based in Örebro, Sweden).
  • The Stress-And-Gene-Analysis (SAGA) Cohort – a longitudinal study on the combined impact of modern lifestyle, psychological stress and inheritance on major disease risk (based in Reykjavik, Iceland).


  • BA Psychology, University of Iceland (1996)
  • PhD Clinical Cancer Epidemiology, Department of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Institutet (2003)
  • Post Doc, Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet (2004-2006)
  • Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Univerisity of Iceland (2007)

Academic honours, awards and prizes

  • Early Scientific Achievement Award (Hvatningarverðlaunin) – The Science and Technology Policy Council, Prime Ministry of Iceland (2010)
  • David and Astrid Hageléns Foundation´s Science Award, Karolinska Institutet (2005)