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Doctor, scientist, feminist- portrait of Prof. Kristina Gemzell-Danielsson

As we are getting closer to Christmas and Hanukkah we would like you to get in the holiday spirits. Today we are publishing such heartwarming interview with Professor Kristina Gemzell-Danielsson, the leading expert in reproductive medicine. We chatted about a wide range of topics, including how clinical medicine mixes well with research, importance of the recognition of reproductive rights and how to successfully achieve work-life balance.

Why did you become a doctor?
I think it was out of curiosity.

What was the reason you chose obgyn?
Because fertility and fertility regulation are essential to all of us as individuals and for society. It’s truly fundamental. The need to weave information into policy is urgent. This speciality encompasses a wide range of fields, including endocrinology, infection, surgery – I used to love surgery! – and psychiatry.  Obstetrics and Gynecology can be practiced in hospitals or at primary care level and it involves a lot of teamwork, another component of the field I enjoy.

Your research interests are really wide, from contraception and abortion to infertility and reproductive failures. Which of them is your favorite and why?
All of these areas are part of the larger topic of reproduction – and fertility and regulation are fundamental to both individuals and society. I think it is superficial to try to separate these two areas which are both critical to individual’s lives.

Do you prefer to do research or work clinically? What are your favorite aspects of both?
I trained to become a clinician but to be a good clinician I think it’s important to integrate research and education, which will enable me to offer the best evidence-based care for my patients. My research questions, an interpretation of the results and my teaching can be based on my clinical experience.

What is your next goal to achieve?
To treat infertility caused by a non-responsive (non functional) endometrium as there is currently no treatment for this condition, and to develop reversible effective contraception for men and endometrial (inhibition of endometrial receptivity) – contraception with added health benefits for women. I also strive to make safe, effective and simplified (early?) medical abortion and post-abortion care available and easy accessible.

Infertility due to the lack endometrial receptivity sounds tragic yet interesting. Could you please tell us a bit about it?
Our vision is to allow and improve fertility in a group of women challenged with unresponsive endometrium that is insufficient to support pregnancy. This condition, referred to as Asherman’s syndrome, can be congenital or acquired due to endocrine, genetic, inflammatory disease or trauma caused by surgery that affects endometrial function, and is often seen in cancer survivors following radiation to the pelvic area or following unsafe abortion. It is estimated that 3-5% of women are affected by Asherman’s syndrome and almost 50% of them suffer from infertility or repeat pregnancy loss. Today, due to improved survival rates in a variety of malignancies, fertility preservation has become an important matter for concern. However, despite preservation of oocytes, sperms and/or embryos, so far women with a non-responsive endometrium remain infertile and without treatment options. One of the underlying reasons is lack of sufficient endometrial tissue to support the implantation or development of the placenta. Recently, we and other (colleagues? academics?)  have isolated and characterised so called “endometrial stem cells” (eSC). There is solid evidence to show that these eSC are crucial in endometrial regeneration and its function.

What is the main challenge in reproductive health care here in Sweden and in Europe in general and how would you fix it?
Our biggest challenge is the double standard – the lack of acknowledgement of the importance of sexual and reproductive health or that sexual and reproductive health and rights are a fundamental human right. And the the constant attack on Sweden by the internal and external anti-choice fundamentalists is worrying. The sweeping reorganization of national health care has resulted in Stockholm shifting health care from hospitals to primary care providers, which is a huge challenge for research, education and quality of care. There is a pedagogic challenge in making society and politicians recognize the importance of prevention in addition to localizing all resources and attention to treatment. I also think a closer relationship with specialist organisations could benefit political decisions.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Does it help you in being an emphatic obgyn?
Yes I do. I hope so.

Is being a feminist always connected with reproductive rights and in/fertility?
Yes, reproduction is a core principle of feminism.

How have you managed being a mom of 3 with developing a successful professional career?
Multitasking, jogging for my mental health and enjoying life.

What is The Nobel Assembly and what are your duties and responsibilities there?
The Nobel Assembly selects the Nobel Award winner(s) in Physiology and/or Medicine. Members are responsible for the evaluation of nominated candidates and selection of the winner(s).

Please tell us how cool is it to be a member of The Nobel Assembly!
Very cool. I’m very proud!

What are you hobbies? How do you like to spend your free time?
Reading, tracking, skiing and working on research ideas, and spending time with my family, with friends.

What is your favorite movie/book/ food?
Movie: The tricolor
Books: I read a lot! Some books that made an impression and remain with me are The Diary of Anne Frank, Herman Hesse’s “Der Steppen Wolf” and Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”.
Food: Soup and homemade bread and sometimes oysters and champagne.

In Poland we really celebrate Christmas. How do you spend this time?
We usually spend Christmas at home, with the whole family together relaxing, enjoying food and giving presents We also like to do some sports and outdoor activities – and some work – and to spend time with our extended family. We are a large family when we all get together.

Kristina Gemzell-Danielsson, M.D., PhD – professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Member of The Nobel Assembly at KI. Pioneering researcher in the field of  endometrial receptivity and its implications in infertility, contraception and abortion. She is a member of numerous professional associations, including FIAPAC and ESC. Clinically active senior obstetrician-gynecologist at the Karolinska University Hospital.

Editorial Team would like to express their gratitude to Ms. Mara Klein-Clarke for her valuable editorial support!

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Karina Sasin

Naukowczyni, aktywistka na rzecz praw reprodukcyjnych. Redaktor Naukowa "Chcemy Być Rodzicami". Wielokrotna stypendystka m.in. Organizacji Narodów Zjednoczonych, Rządu USA (NIH) i Krajowego Funduszu Na Rzecz Dzieci. Organizatorka konferencji International Meeting on MRKH Syndrome. Po godzinach miłośniczka cukiernictwa i dalekich podróży ;-)