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Investigating a cell replacement therapy for Parkinson's Disease: a Ph.D. Interview with Fredrik Nilsson

Image collage with a portrait of Fredrik Nilsson (right) and his PhD Thesis cover (left).

Fredrik Nilsson successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis on May 10, 2023. For the last four years, Fredrik has explored the use of patient-specific cells in cell replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease to identify strategies to safeguard these transplanted cells from disease-related degeneration.

In this interview, he tells us about his findings, their potential implications for future therapies, and his time at Lund University, offering valuable insights and advice to aspiring Ph.D. students.

What have your Ph.D. studies focused on?

"My Ph.D. studies revolved around cell replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease. The focus was on evaluating the potential of using patient-specific cells (i.e., autologous grafting). The potential benefit of a patient-specific treatment is the circumvention of an immunosuppressive regimen that causes side effects and put the patient at risk of infection. However, since the patient-derived cells have a disease background it could be so that they develop disease-associated phenotypes and degenerate over time. My projects investigated whether patient-derived cells are more prone to develop disease phenotypes and what can be done to protect these cells after transplantation," explained Fredrik.

Can you tell us more about the cover of your thesis?

"My thesis cover illustrates the workflow of generating patient-specific cells for cell replacement therapy for Parkinson's Disease. Skin cells are taken from a patient, reprogrammed to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), differentiated into dopaminergic progenitors, and put back in the patient. En route to the patient we can also remove disease-associated genes that might compromise the transplanted cells and eventually the clinical benefit of the graft over time," described Fredrik.

How did you end up doing a Ph.D. at Lund Stem Cell Center?

"Before my Ph.D. studies, I was studying engineering in biotechnology at the engineering faculty here at Lund University. During a biology course, we had a guest speaker from Lund Stem Cell Center who talked about stem cells and their potential to become any type of cell in the body. I found it incredibly interesting so when it came to doing a master's project, I reached out to Lund Stem Cell Center. Luckily, a postdoc in Malin Parmar's group was looking for a master's student and it turned out to be a great fit, so I continued as a Ph.D. student afterward," reflected Fredrik.

What have you found the most enjoyable during your Ph.D. studies at Lund Stem Cell Center?

"It is difficult to pinpoint one thing or one event. In my opinion, the entire journey has been the most enjoyable. That is, all the fika moments, lunches, retreats/conferences, and laughs around the office. I am very fortunate that I had the opportunity to do my Ph.D. studies in such a nice environment. It was never stressful to go to work," noted Fredrik.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

"Since we are often interested in the ability of our cells to be able to alleviate motor symptoms after transplantation, we often conduct long-term (6-12 months) animal studies. Moreover, many of our in vitro studies require several months of cellular maturation. Thus, if things go wrong (which they tend to do from time to time) it is a lot of time that has been lost. Furthermore, often you simply don't know where the fault lies and all you can do is repeat it and hope for the best. Such is the world of science," emphasized Fredrik.

What are your plans following your Ph.D. defense?

"I am currently looking for an exciting new career step, both in the industry and in academia. I don't know where I will end up, but I know that I want to work with translational research, something that can bring benefit to patients in the not-so-distant future," said Fredrik.

Any tips or advice for future Ph.D. students?

"My advice for future Ph.D. students would be to learn as many methods/techniques as possible. Not only is this very fun but it will also help you in the future when you apply for a job. Try to find a project that excites you because this will keep you going when you are tired, or when things are not working out. Also, know that things will go awry, so don't get too disappointed and beaten down when these things happen. Lastly, I would also like to mention that if you can get a first-author paper published around your half-time (easier said than done) this will make the end of your Ph.D. studies less stressful," concluded Fredrik.


Fredrik Nilsson

Ph.D. Student
Developmental and Regenerative Neurobiology
Email: fredrik [dot] nilsson [dot] 5372 [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (fredrik[dot]nilsson[dot]5372[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Profile in Lund University research portal

Malin Parmar

Principal Investigator
New York Stem Cell Foundation - Robertson Investigator
PhD, Professor
Developmental and Regenerative Neurobiology 
Wallenberg Neuroscience Center
Phone: +46 46 222 06 20
E-mail: Malin [dot] parmar [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Malin[dot]parmar[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Profile in Lund University research portal

Learn more about the Developmental and Regenerative Neurobiology Research Group

Ph.D. Defense Details:

Fredrik Nilsson defended his Ph.D. thesis “Cell Replacement Therapy for Parkinson's Disease - Evaluating the potential of autologous grafting” on May 10th.

  • The opponent was Adjunct Professor Merja Voutilainen, University of Helsinki.
  • The chairman of the dissertation was Senior Professor Anders Björklund, Lund University.

Read the full Ph.D. thesis in the Lund University Research Portal.