Erik Ingelsson: Biography
I was born in 1975 in Eskilstuna, Sweden and lived there during childhood and adolescence. After graduation from high school in 1994, I moved to Uppsala for studies at the university. I went to medical school between 1994 and 2000, and graduated in June 2000 with a medical degree from Uppsala University. During my university studies, I did two summer projects at the Department of Cell Biology, resulting in one publication. After graduation, I focused on clinical work for several years; first doing my residency (AT) in Gävle, and then working as a locum family doctor at various health care centers, before starting a residency in family practice in Uppsala in 2003.
I did my PhD at Uppsala University in 2003 to 2005, working on my thesis in parallel with my residency in general practice. The title of my thesis was ‘Insulin Resistance and Inflammation as Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure’. The four papers included in the thesis, along with seven additional papers that I wrote as first name author during this period and right after my PhD defence were focused on risk factors for congestive heart failure, a condition with high mortality, but often neglected in medical research. Three of the papers from this period were published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). These papers got a lot of attention, both in lay media and in the research community, and gave me the first opportunity for an invited talk at the 5th Annual World Congress on the Insulin Resistance Syndrome, Boston. As a whole, the studies I worked with these years led to many new insights of the role of metabolic factors for the development of heart failure.
In 2006 to 2007, I did my post-doctoral fellowship at the Framingham Heart Study, Boston University School of Medicine. This study is the oldest and most well-known population-based longitudinal cohort study in the world and the research environment was very stimulating. My main research areas were biomarkers, metabolic disturbances, subclinical cardiovascular disease (CVD), and genetic epidemiology. The most influential paper from my post-doc was a publication in JAMA, where we compared traditional lipids with apolipoproteins for risk prediction – a highly cited paper that had impact on guidelines for primary prevention of CVD from American Heart Association.
I was fortunate to receive my first two substantial grants as independent investigator from the Swedish Research Council and Swedish Heart-Lung Foundation soon after returning to Sweden in 2007. These grants allowed me to quickly build a research program focused on understanding the relationship between various adipokines with subclinical and overt CVD. This line of research resulted in 14 publications, several of which formed the basis of the thesis for two of my first PhD students. From 2008 to 2012, I established my independent research group in the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institute, where I was first appointed as an Associate Professor for two years before being offered a tenured full professorship of cardiovascular epidemiology in July, 2010. My research program during these five years focused on the genetics of and biomarkers for cardiovascular disease and related traits. However, I also managed to secure several grants focused on more traditional epidemiological investigation including methods development and registry-based research. During these years, I received substantial recognition for my contributions to science in the form of multiple high-impact publications, citations, funding, awards, and the recruitment of top students into my lab. Towards this end, my research was evaluated as ”Outstanding” (highest grade) in the External Research Assessment 2010 at Karolinska Institute (an external evaluation of all research groups). In 2013, I decided to move to Uppsala University to create a section of Molecular Epidemiology. The move coincided with several grants, which facilitated expansion of my research program into new areas (described in more detail elsewhere). This environment has allowed me to continue to publish high impact studies and secure additional large research grants (such as the ERC starting grant and Wallenberg Academy Fellow grant). In 2016, I was appointed Professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, and I am now building a new research program at this prestigious university.
Progress in the field of complex trait genetics has been remarkable in the past few years. We have finally transitioned out of an era of candidate gene-based studies with few consistently replicated genotype-phenotype associations into an era of exponential discovery through large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS) starting in 2007 and, more recently, sequencing-based projects. My research group has taken very active roles in the various ongoing large-scale international genetics projects and consortia within the area of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. In this context, I have been fortunate enough to serve as the co investigator in several projects that have resulted in a number of important insights on the genetic architecture and cause of complex cardiometabolic traits published in several top-tier journals including 25 papers in Nature Genetics, seven in Nature, and two in Science. I have had a leading role in many of these papers, as either first or senior author, and/or a member of the writing group and/or steering committee. This work has highlighted the very polygenic nature of complex traits (hundreds of loci with tiny effects) and the high degree of allelic heterogeneity. Further, I chaired a project for four years that included >260,000 individuals to study the genetic architecture of extreme obesity and other extremes of trait distributions. Our conclusion that the genetic architecture in extremes is similar to that of the full population is of high importance for the genetics field, especially with the increasing number of extremes designs to maximize efficiency of sequencing approaches.
I have also led several large projects aiming to better understand the pathogenetic mechanisms leading to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. For example, I led one of the first detailed characterizations of GWAS findings using refined physiological measures in humans, in which we could delineate the mechanisms by which GWAS signals were associated with fasting glucose or fasting insulin using gold standard measures for insulin processing, secretion, and sensitivity. Other examples of new biology that we have learned from GWAS in combination with data from gene expression analyses in multiple tissues, pathway analyses, fine-mapping and use of various in silico data, include the importance of neuronal pathways in the development of obesity; identification of the lipid fractions that are causally related with coronary heart disease; and characterization of genetic mechanisms that lead to altered glucose and insulin metabolism or deranged lipid levels.
In summary, in the twelve years since I received my PhD degree, I have published >250 original research papers, amongst which 53 in journals with impact factor >30; have been cited >30,000 times and reached an h-index of 70; been awarded several prestigious prizes including the Ingvar Carlsson Award (2009), the ERC Starting Grant (2013), Wallenberg Academy Fellow (2013) and the Göran Gustafsson Prize in Medicine 2015 (awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to the best medical researcher in Sweden below age 45); and been awarded project grants/excellence awards as PI of >14M USD to date.