Sweden’s largest individual scientific prize: the Tobias Prize 2014 awards research about blood formation and leukaemic stem cells

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, awarding body of the prize instituted by the Tobias Foundation, has decided to award the prize for 2014 to Sten Eirik Waelgaard Jacobsen, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and University of Oxford, UK

for groundbreaking scientific contributions to the field of haematopoiesis, particularly with respect to identifying factors that regulate the maturation process of haematopoietic stem cells, factors of great importance for successfully transplanting stem cells”.

Stem cells determine normal or leukaemic blood formation

Sten Eirik W. Jacobsen is one of the leading scientists in the world in the field of blood cell formation, haematopoiesis. His research focuses on stem cells in the blood system, how they produce the body’s blood cells and immune system, and how the body sometimes switches from producing normal blood cells and begins producing cancer in the blood system, leukaemia. Jacobsen has identified stem cells and important precursor cells in the blood forming process as well as factors that regulate how they mature, which is of great importance for successfully transplanting stem cells.

For adults, normal haematopoietic stem cells have the capacity to balance the production of red and white blood corpuscles as well as platelets. In the adult human being, stem cells create millions of blood cells every second. To understand how diseases like leukaemia arise, Jacobsen and his research team have examined how a stem cell normally evolves into different blood cells and how the regulatory mechanisms for this process function.
By studying a group of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a type of blood cancer that often develops into leukaemia, Jacobsen and his team of researchers have also contributed to the identification and understanding of how leukaemic stem cells develop and function. It is very important to gain an understanding of what it is that happens and changes in the MDS stem cell that subsequently leads to leukaemia and relapse of the disease.

Jacobsen’s research is significant for stem cell transplantations, among other things, which are performed to cure leukaemia and other diseases in the blood and immune system. In a stem cell transplant, the patient receives new and healthy stem cells, often from another person. A considerable problem after transplanting stem cells is that the body’s production of several vital blood cells is slow. By identifying important haematopoietic stem cells and precursor cells, as well as how they are regulated, scientists hope to speed up the production of vital blood cells. An even more significant problem is the relapse into leukaemia or MDS after the stem cell transplant. Having identified the stem cells that cause such relapses, Jacobsen’s team of researchers can focus on how to eliminate them more efficiently before or after the transplant.

– The prize money will primarily go towards financing further studies of MDS stem cells, for instance, studies carried out after stem cell transplants, says Sten Eirik. Transplantation of stem cells is currently the only therapy able to cure MDS, but the relapse frequency after transplant is still very high. Although we now know which cells cause the development of MDS and later on leukaemia, we still do not understand why these stem cells are so good at resisting various kinds of treatment. If we can identify new “therapeutic targets” in the MDS stem cells, we hope to be able to find a cure for MDS, comments Sten Eirik W. Jacobsen.



Prize amount: SEK 10.1 million, divided into a yearly research grant of SEK 2 million for five years, as well as a personal prize of SEK 100 000.

The Tobias Prize will be awarded at the annual ceremony of the Academy, 15 January 2014, at 6 PM, in the presence of H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria.

The purpose of the Tobias Foundation is to support research about stem cell transplantation and blood diseases that can be treated by means of stem cell transplantation. 


Professor Sten Eirik W. Jacobsen was born in 1961 in Oslo, Norway. He received his medical degree in 1987 and his doctoral degree in 1992 in Bergen, Norway. From 1996, Jacobsen worked at Lund University, Sweden, where in 2000 he was appointed Professor of Stem Cell Biology. In 2003, he received a sizeable grant from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF) in order to establish and direct the Lund Stem Cell Center, one of six SSF-founded Swedish Centres of Excellence in the Life Sciences. In 2006, Jacobsen was appointed Professor of Stem Cell Biology at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, UK. Since 2010, Jacobsen is Visiting professor of Regenerative Medicine at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology and the newly created Center for Hematology and Regenerative Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. Sten Eirik Jacobsen has published more than 175 articles in the fields of stem cell biology, immunology and haematology in leading biomedical journals. In 2005, Jacobsen was awarded the Göran Gustafsson Prize in Medicine, one of many awards that Sten Eirik Jacobsen has received.


The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) selects laureates,
The Tobias Foundation instituted the prize and provides its financing, www.tobiasstiftelsen.com

The Tobias Prize has previously been awarded to:
2008 Professor Katarina Le Blanc, Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge.
2009 Professor Stefan Karlsson, Lund University.
2011 Professor Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge.