The Karolinska Institute[12] (KI, Swedish: Karolinska Institutet; sometimes known as the (Royal) Caroline Institute in English) is a medical university in Solna within the Stockholm urban area, Sweden, and one of the largest and most prestigious medical universities in the world. The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The assembly consists of fifty professors from various medical disciplines at the university. The current rector of Karolinska Institute is Ole Petter Ottersen, who took office in August 2017.

The Karolinska Institute was founded in 1810 on the island of Kungsholmen on the west side of Stockholm; the main campus was relocated decades later to Solna, just outside Stockholm. A second campus was established more recently in Flemingsberg, Huddinge, south of Stockholm.[13] The Karolinska Institute consistently ranks among the top universities in the world on a number of prestigious ranking tables, and is currently considered the seventh best university to study medicine and life sciences in the world.[14]

The Karolinska Institute is Sweden's third oldest medical school, after Uppsala University (founded in 1477) and Lund University (founded in 1666). Research at the Karolinska Institute accounts for more than 40% of all academic medical and life science research in Sweden.[15]

The Karolinska University Hospital, located in Solna and Huddinge, is associated with the university as a research and teaching hospital. Together they form an academic health science centre. It is one of Sweden's largest centres for training and research, accounting for 30 percent of the medical training and 40 percent of the medical academic research conducted nationwide. While most of the medical programs are taught in Swedish, the bulk of the Ph.D. projects are conducted in English. The institute's name is a reference to the Caroleans.


19th century

The Karolinska Institute was founded by King Karl XIII on 13 December 1810 as an "academy for the training of skilled army surgeons" after one in three soldiers wounded in the Finnish War against Russia died in field hospitals. Indeed, a report of the time came to the conclusion that "the medical skills of the army barber-surgeons are manifestly inadequate, so Sweden needs to train surgeons in order to better prepare the country for future wars." Just one year later, in 1811, the Karolinska Institute was granted license to train not only surgeons but medical practitioners in general.

As one of KI's first professors, Jöns Jacob Berzelius laid the foundations of the newly inaugurated institute's scientific orientation, which in 1816 is granted the name Carolinska Institutet (in reference to the Caroleans[17]). This name, however, didn't really make an impact at the time and so was expanded to Carolinska Medico Chirurgiska institutet, which proved more popular, especially when preceded by the epithet Kongliga (Royal), as introduced in 1822. This original institute was situated in the Royal Bakery on Riddarholmen (a small but central island in Stockholm) and within a just a couple of years had grown to encompass four professorships in anatomy, natural history and pharmacy, theoretical medicine and practical medicine (internal medicine and surgery).

At around the same time Anders Johan Hagströmer, a professor of anatomy and surgery from the Collegium Medicum (the National Board of Health and Welfare of its day), was appointed the institute's first inspector, a post equivalent to today's president. In the same year, the institute moved to the old Glasbruk quarter on Norr Mälarstrand, beside what is now the City Hall. The move across the waters of Riddarfjärden was accomplished with the help of barges, one of which is said to have capsized, consigning parts of Hagströmer's collection of preparations to the lake bed. Despite this his library survives intact and today forms part of the KI-Swedish Society of Medicine museum at the institute's Hagströmer Library.

The institute's original building as it appeared in the early 1860s

In 1861 the institute reached a significant milestone in being awarded the right to confer its own degrees; as such it was granted a status equal to that of a university. This, in turn, led to an increase in the size of the student body, necessitating the demolition of the old building on the Glasbruk plot and its replacement with a new, larger one. This new institute building was built in stages, mostly during the 1880s and into the first decade of the 20th century; it stands to this day, and has remained largely unchanged since its opening.

Although it had already gained the right to confer general degrees, KI wasn't licensed to confer medical degrees until 1874. Previously, even though the institute could run courses in medicine, the right to confer medical degrees was almost exclusively that of Uppsala University. Following on from this change in the institute's status the first doctoral thesis was defended at KI by Alfred Levertin, on the subject of "Om Torpa Källa". Just shortly thereafter the Medical Students' Union was formed.

The next decade was one of firsts. By 1880 the Karolinska Institute had started to accept women and so it was in 1884 that Karolina Widerström became the first woman to obtain a bachelor's degree in medicine from the institute; she later went on to obtain a Licentiate degree in medicine and chose to specialise in women's medicine and gynaecology. Anna Stecksén later became the first woman to obtain a doctorate from the university.

Just five years later, following the death of Alfred Nobel in 1895, the Karolinska Institute received the right to select the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Since then, this assignment has given the Karolinska Institute a broad contact network in the field of medical science. Indeed, over the years, five of the institute's own researchers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

20th century

In 1884 Karolina Widerström became the first woman to obtain a degree from the Karolinska Institute

By 1930 the Swedish parliament had decided that a new teaching hospital was needed and resolved to build the new facility at Norrbacka in the Solna area of Stockholm. The hospital was, from the start, planned to have its theoretical and practical functions side by side, essentially signalling the start of the KI's move to the new site. The chief architect appointed to design the building, later to be named the Karolinska Hospital after a proposal by the Karolinska Institute, was Carl Westman. Westman worked tirelessly on this project, allowing for completion of the main hospital building by 1940. The hospital was officially opened in the same year along with the new Department of Public Health, KI's first building co-located with the hospital complex, and by 1945 KI moved the last of its departments from Kungsholmen to the Norrbacka site, known to current students and staff as the institute's Solna Campus.

The Karolinska Institute was initially slow to adopt social change. Nanna Svartz became the Karolinska Institute and Sweden's first state-employed female professor in 1937; she was the only female academic of this rank until Astrid Fagréus became the institute's second female professor almost thirty years later in 1965. However, by the mid-twentieth century student revolts were taking place regularly in the pursuit of greater social equality. It was in response to the largest of these revolts in 1968 that the name of the institute was shortened to the current form Karolinska Institutet, or KI.

The Karolinska Institute's main building in 1906

By the early 1970s the Huddinge Hospital became increasingly affiliated with the institute and, as more and more of the Karolinska Institute's departments start to move into the hospital buildings, the area developed to become what is KI's Huddinge campus today. It was here that the medical information centre for computer-based citation research (MIC) was set up, making the Karolinska Institute the first MEDLARS (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System) Centre outside the United States. Similarly innovative work continued at the institute throughout the 1970s, with Sweden's first toxicology programme commencing at KI in 1976 and the establishment of a psychotherapy course in 1979. Furthermore, in 1977 the Stockholm Institute of Physiotherapy closed, with the study programme transferring to a new physiotherapy department at KI.

In 1982 the Huddinge campus was expanded with the addition of the Novum Research Centre for the study of biotechnology, oral biology, nutrition and toxicology, and structural biochemistry. The number of departments was reduced from 150 to 30 in 1993 and programmes in optometry, biomedicine, and dental technology commenced. The other key feature of the 1990s was the institute's increasingly ambitious plans for commercialisation, as a result of which 'Karolinska Institutet Holding AB' and 'Karolinska Innovations AB' were formedto help the institute intensify its relations with the business community and facilitate scientists' attempts to commercialise their discoveries.

The year 1997 marked a major point in the history of the Karolinska Institute as it was finally granted official university status with a stated mission to "contribute to the improvement of human health through research, education and information". This newly acquired status later led to the incorporation of the Stockholm University of Health Sciences into KI, as a result of which seven new study programmes in occupational therapy, audionomy, midwifery, biomedical laboratory science, nursing, radiology nursing and dental hygiene, were added to KI's teaching portfolio. Around the same time the institute's public health science programme commenced bringing the total number of study programmes to nineteen. Similarly, by this point the institute possessed three student unions: The Medical Students' Union, the Dental Students' Union, and the Physiotherapy Students' Union.

21st century

KI Campus in Solna. Karolinska University Hospital is seen in the background

With the turn of the millennium the Karolinska Institute sought to strengthen its activities in the field of external education and research, forming dedicated companies to help it do so and later establishing a fundraising campaign with a target of raising an extra 1 billion kronor for research between 2007 and 2010. During the same period new programmes were established in medical informatics, podiatry, and psychology as well as master's programmes of one and two years duration, and in 2004, the Karolinska Institute appointed its first female president – Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, professor of integrative physiology.

The year 2010 marked yet another significant event in the history of the KI as the institute celebrated its 200th anniversary under the patronage of King Carl XVI Gustaf. Shortly thereafter, in 2013, Anders Hamsten assumed his new position as vice-chancellor of the Karolinska Institute, a position he held until when he resigned as in the wake of the Macchiarini affair.[19]

Nobel Prize winners

  • 1955 Hugo Theorell becomes KI's first Nobel Laureate, receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries concerning the nature and mode of action of oxidation enzymes.
  • 1967 Ragnar Granit receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the analysis of retinal function and how optical nerve cells respond to light stimuli, colour and frequency.
  • 1970 Ulf von Euler receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions for discoveries concerning the humoral transmittors in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation.
  • 1982 Sune Bergström and Bengt Samuelsson jointly receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries concerning prostaglandins and related biologically active substances.

Seal's symbolism

Rod of Asclepius

Campus in Huddinge

The rod of Asclepius is named after the god of medicine, Aesculapius or Asclepius. This ancient god was the son of Apollo and was generally accompanied by a snake. Over time, the snake became coiled around the staff borne by the god.

Snake bowl

The snake bowl was originally depicted together with Asclepius' daughter, the virgin goddess of health Hygieia or Hygiea. The snake ate from her bowl, which was considered to bring good fortune. There is nothing to support the notion that the snake would secrete its venom into the bowl.


The cockerel symbolises new life and was sacrificed to Asclepius by those who had recovered from illness. This is the meaning behind the Greek philosopher Socrates' last words after he drank the poisoned cup: "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don't forget."


The institute's campus in Solna

The Karolinska Institute offers the widest range of medical education under one roof in Sweden. Several of the programmes include clinical training or other training within the healthcare system. The close proximity of the Karolinska University Hospital and other teaching hospitals in the Stockholm area thus plays an important role during the education. Approximately 6,000 full-time students are taking educational and single subject courses at Bachelor and Master levels at the Karolinska Institute.


  • Biosciences and Nutrition
  • Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neuroscience
  • Clinical Science and Education, Söder Hospital
  • Clinical Science, Danderyd Hospital
  • Clinical Sciences, Intervention and Technology
  • Dental Medicine
  • Environmental Medicine
  • Laboratory Medicine
  • Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics
  • Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Medicine, Huddinge
  • Medicine, Solna
  • Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology
  • Molecular Medicine and Surgery
  • Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society
  • Neuroscience
  • Oncology-Pathology
  • Physiology and Pharmacology
  • Public Health Sciences
  • Woman and Child Health

Rankings and reputation

According to the 2012 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, The Karolinska Institute is ranked 32nd worldwide, 5th in Europe behind Oxford university, Cambridge university and UCL, 1st in the Nordic region [22] and according to the 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities, the Karolinska Institute is ranked 11th in the world in the field of clinical medicine and pharmacology, 18th in life sciences and 3rd in pharmacy.[23] The Karolinska Institute is not measured in QS World University Rankings since QS only ranks multi-faculty universities. However, QS does rank the Karolinska Institute in life sciences and medicine, placing the institute as the best in Sweden, 3rd in Europe and 9th worldwide in 2010.[25] In 2015, the QS ranked the Department of Dental Medicine 1st in the world.[26]

The university is a member of the 22-strong League of European Research Universities. On two campuses it covers the gamut of research and clinical medicine and pharmacology, with a faculty of more than 2,300 serving around 8,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. For the year 2013, Academic ranking of world universities ranks the Karolinska Institute at number 44 overall in the world, and number 11 in the world/number 2 in Europe in the field of Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy. For the year of 2013/2014, the Karolinska Institute is placed at overall number 36 in the world and number 7 in Europe as well as number 14 in the world and number 6 in Europe among Clinical, Pre-Clinical and Health Universities.

Hong Kong donation controversy

In February 2015, the KI announced it had received a record $50 million donation from Lau Ming-wai, who chairs Hong Kong property developer Chinese Estates Holdings, and would establish a research centre in the city. Within a few days, Next Magazine revealed that Chuen-yan – son of Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung – had recently been awarded a fellowship to research heart disease therapeutics at the institute in Stockholm beginning that year, and raised questions about the "intricate relationship between the chief executive and powerful individuals". CY Leung had visited KI when in Sweden in 2014, and subsequently introduced KI president, Anders Hamsten, to Lau.[27][29] The Democratic Party urged the ICAC to investigate the donation, suggesting that Leung may have abused his public position to further his son's career. The Chief Executive's Office strenuously denied suggestions of any quid pro quo, saying that "the admission of the [Chief Executive's] son to post-doctoral research at KI is an independent decision by KI having regard to his professional standards. He [the son] plays no role and does not hold any position at the [proposed] Ming Wai Lau Center for Regenerative Medicine."[27] This accusation has also been questioned by the South China Morning Post. "The insinuation is that Leung Chuen-yan with a doctorate from Cambridge doesn't deserve his job at the Karolinska Institute...Leung the son probably could get similar junior posts in many other prestigious-sounding – at least to brand-obsessed Hongkongers – research institutes; it's not that big a deal."[30]

Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute is a body at the Karolinska Institute which awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The Nobel Assembly consists of fifty professors in medical subjects at the Karolinska Institute, appointed by the faculty of the Institute, and is a private organisation which is formally not part of the Karolinska Institute. The main work involved in collecting nominations and screening nominees is performed by the Nobel Committee at the Karolinska Institute, which has five members. The Nobel Committee, which is appointed by the Nobel Assembly, is only empowered to recommend laureates, while the final decision rests with the Nobel Assembly.

In the early history of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which was first awarded in 1901, the laurates were decided upon by the entire faculty of the Karolinska Institute. The reason for creating a special body for the decisions concerning the Nobel Prize was the fact that the Karolinska Institute is a state-run university, which in turn means that it is subject to various laws that apply to government agencies in Sweden and similar Swedish public sector organisations, such as freedom of information legislation. By moving the actual decision making to a private body at Karolinska Institute (but not part of it), it is possible to follow the regulations for the Nobel Prize set down by the Nobel Foundation, including keeping the confidentiality of all documents and proceedings for a minimum of 50 years. Also, the legal possibility of contesting the decisions in e.g. administrative courts is removed.

The other two Nobel Prize-awarding bodies in Sweden, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Swedish Academy, are legally private organisations (although enjoying royal patronage), and have therefore not had to make any special arrangements to be able to follow the Nobel Foundation's regulations.

Notable alumni or faculty

See also