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Fredrik Bäckhed knows the art of generating a positive spiral

To describe Fredrik Bäckhed as one of Sweden’s most successful young researchers is no over- statement. He and his team have a phenomenal ability to attract grants and are frequently published in respected journals. The secret? A combination of timing, hard work and a positive atmosphere on the research team.

Fredrik Bäckhed did his postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis. He had already been recognised as a rising star and the world was open to him. When it was time to establish his own research team, he chose Sahlgrenska Academy and Gothenburg.

“I had a good feeling early on. Sahlgrenska Academy was extremely welcoming and exuded self-confidence – without any arrogance. When I came here, I immediately felt great support. People are happy when you do well. There’s no jealousy here,” explains Fredrik Bäckhed.

Specialised in gut microbiota
Today, at 42, Fredrik Bäckhed leads a research team that is specialised on the significance of the gut microbiota to health. The 25-person strong team is regularly published in the bigger journals.

“When you work with a subject that’s relatively unexplored, there’s a great deal of news to share, so of course the major journals find it exciting. But we also refine our articles a great deal before we submit them. You really only get one chance and there is no room for carelessness. But sooner or later, you have to let them go. One of my professors in St. Louis said ‘an article is never done, just abandoned.’ I think about that a lot,” says Fredrik Bäckhed.

The art of generating a positive spiral
Today, the team is in a positive spiral where researchers and research teams from around the world want to collaborate. “Often, development is a matter of combining research fields. We are strong in the field of intestinal bacteria, and don’t need to be experts on everything else. Instead, we bring in research partners who are authorities in their own fields. The two most recent publications were collaborations initiated by teams in the US and France who approached us.”

Conscious effort shapes the team
Everything begins with the strength of the individual research team. Fredrik Bäckhed consciously works to achieve a good mix of competencies and people as well as a good atmosphere.

“We work hard, but with substantial freedom. It has to be driven by goodwill. The whole point of having a broad group is that we think together and attack the problems with different tools and ideas. This means it won’t work with people who only focus on their own project.”

The selection process is meticulous and Fredrik Bäckhed leaves nothing to chance.

“We begin by scanning through the applications and picking out the ones that have interesting CVs. Then I have an hour-long Skype interview with a few selected individuals. Those who feel right come for a visit and meet the entire team for two days. We have one prospective postdoc from China here right now, and will make our decision soon. The right person with the right attitude can be a boost for the entire team.”

Closeness a crucial factor
Proximity to the clinic and the patients is important for Fredrik Bäckhed, who has a lab and his mice at Sahlgrenska Academy, but his office and main lab across the street at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. He also likes being close to the little metropolis of Gothenburg.

“It’s possible to have a very high quality of life here. We live by the sea and are still close to work and day care. Not many can compete with that", says Fredrik Bäckhed.


Hope for a drug against type 2 diabetes

Fredrik Bäckhed

PhD at Karolinska Institutet in 2002. Professor of Molecular Medicine at University of Gothenburg in 2012, at University of Copenhagen in 2011, Visiting Professor at University of Oslo in 2013.

Selection of appointments and distinctions

  • Ingvar Carlsson Award
  • Fernström Prize for promising researchers
  • Göran Gustafsson Prize in medicine
  • Prince Daniel Research Grant
  • Principal Investigator at the Wallenberg Laboratory
  • Member of Young Academy of Sweden

Contact Information

Contact details for
Fredrik Bäckhed

Page Manager: Pontus Sundén|Last update: 8/8/2018

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