People at IEMR: Who they are, what they do and why they do it

At IEMR we believe that a mix of passionate clinicians and basic scientists produces excellence in research.

The institute employs people from all around the world with backgrounds spanning from mathematics and physics, to molecular biology and medicine. But what drives the people working at IEMR? Let’s get to know some of them:

Hege Ugland

Head Engineer

Hege Ugland joined us in 2020 as Head Engineer, after some years in the industry. She works in our Laboratory core facility, which offers methods development and service to our research groups. At IEMR, we focus on using state-of-the-art technologies, and Hege was challenged to establish 3D cell cultures.

What is your field of research or expertise?

Many years ago, I did a PhD in cell cycle regulation, and worked with lymphoid cells and stem cells.

However, since I joined the institute, the focus has been cardiac research. More specifically, I’m developing a three-dimensional (3D) cell culture model consisting of cardiomyocytes, cardiac fibroblasts and cardiac microvascular endothelial cells. The 3D cell cultures have a more physiologically relevant environment in which the cells are allowed to grow and interact with their environment in all direction. This is in contrast to traditional two-dimensional (2D) cell cultures in which cells are grown in flat monolayers. It has been demonstrated that cell responses in 3D cultures are more similar to in vivo behaviour compared to 2D culture, thus 3D culture systems are better in vitro models. By co-culturing different cell types, these systems will more closely simulate the in vivo tissue niche, including cell-cell interactions, cell-extracellular matrix interactions, as well as extracellular matrix composition and architecture. This method for cell culturing will change the way diseases are studied, and will increase our understanding of human biology. In our cardiac context, these cultures allow us, in a more relevant context, to pursue the cellular mechanisms we are interested in.

Why did you first become interested in research?

I was introduced to research during my Master’s degree and enjoyed it very much. I have always liked problem solving.

What scientific paper has made you the most excited?

I do not have any favorite paper, but I like scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery that key regulators of the cell cycle also have other important functions in the cell, besides cell cycle regulation.

What are your goals for the near future?

At IEMF, the multidisciplinary environment makes it possible to not only establish the methods, but actually use them to solve key research questions. My goal is to contribute to the high standard and quality of our laboratory core facility, providing the researcher the opportunity to do cutting-edge research.

What is the best thing about working at IEMR?

All the nice and competent colleagues.

See profile for Hege Ugland

Emil Espe

Postdoctoral fellow, Sjaastad group

Emil Espe is a postdoc and a physicist at IEMR, and is a part of the K.G. Jebsen CCR center that just was granted extension. Emil was recently appointed as steering group leader of the K.G. Jebsen Academy for Young Medical Researchers, whose mission is to strengthen the collaboration between young researchers affiliated with the different Jebsen centres.


What is your field of research or expertise?

—I work at the interface between physics and medicine. Specifically, I use physics trying to better understand how heart disease progresses, and to develop better methods to measure changes in the structure and the function of the heart using magnetic resonance imaging.

The main focus of the Jebsen center is translational research. How is it to work as a physicist in this environment?

—My main task as a physicist is to contribute to driving the imaging technology forward. To achieve this, we typically develop and validate novel imaging and analysis tools using our ultrahigh-field preclinical MR laboratory, and then transfer these methods to the clinical MR systems in the hospital. This way, the methodology we develop may be used both in mechanistic preclinical research and in clinical studies.

Are there any challenges in working as a researcher in the hospital without a medical degree?

—I believe that the most exciting research projects involve people with different backgrounds, where everyone contribute with their expertise. The clinical projects I’m involved in is a result of a great collaboration between medical and non-medical personnel, and the treasured collaboration with the University of Oslo and the Oslo University Hospital. For sure—it would be impossible for me to do my research alone!

Why did you first become interested in research?

—As long as I can remember, I have been interested in understanding how stuff works. I really got the taste of medical-oriented physics during my Master’s degree (where I looked at how cancer cells responds to radioactive radiation), and I have not looked back since!

What scientific paper have you read that made you the most excited?

—This is a difficult question, there are so many to choose between! I think I would like to highlight a 2017 JACC paper from our colleagues at Rikshospitalet. In this work, Thomas Stokke et al elegantly unveiled new details on how the heart’s ejection of blood is linked to the physical deformation of the heart muscle. This work emphasizes the importance of careful measurement of the motion of the heart.

What are your goals for the near future?

—One of my goals is to develop an even better MRI method for measuring how well the heart is filled with blood. This may sound easy, but is surprisingly complex—and is relevant for a large number of patients.

What is the best thing about working at IEMR?

—The best thing with IEMR is the wonderful mix of people from different disciplines. I love discovering common grounds and discussing issues of common interest with my colleagues.

See profile for Emil Espe


Michael Frisk

Postdoctoral fellow, Louch group

Michael Frisk’s main research focus has been cellular structures in heart muscle cells called T-tubuli, which are important for calcium handling. Recently, he has received a prestigious career stipend from the Norwegian Research Council to investigate mechanisms for heart disease in salmon.

What is your field of research or expertise?

For the past 10 years, my work has focused primarily on Ca2+ handling and t-tubule remodeling during cardiac disease in animal models and human patients.

Recently, I was awarded a career stipend from the Norwegian research council (Young research talent) evolving around heart disease in farmed Atlantic salmon. This is a major issue in Norwegian aquaculture resulting in massive economic losses, that exceeded 1.5 billion NOK in 2018 alone. Consequently, my current main focus is aimed at unraveling the mechanisms underlying development of such diseases in salmon. Originally a fish physiologist, I feel well equipped to solve this task and hope to be able to aid the industry while at the same time conducting interesting research. In parallel, I continue my work on mammalian heart disease, currently focusing on key differences between patients with and without diabetes.

Why did you first become interested in research?

I was fascinated by the concept of developing hypotheses and testing them in a controlled and standardized manner to discover novel physiological mechanisms and traits.

What scientific paper has made you the most excited?

The very first paper I published was perhaps the most exciting. But I also take a lot of pride in my most recent paper, where we characterized cardiomyocyte phenotypes across different disease entities spanning from human patients to rat models. Here we identified principal differences between heart failure entities, that I hope will make an impact on my field of research and perhaps even for the treatment of heart failure.

What are your goals for the near future?

To continue my scientific work and develop my skills further.

What is the best thing about working at IEMR?

That the whole institute focusses on cardiac research. This facilitates in-house expertise regarding most heart related issues and ensures an excellent infrastructure.

Se profile for Michael Frisk