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The KTH Alum of the Year 2022 created rapid Covid tests

Portrait Sophia Hober
Published Apr 11, 2022

When the pandemic was upon us, her research group developed a high quality rapid test to measure antibodies against Covid-19.
Professor Sophia Hober has now been named the 2022 KTH Alum of the Year.

Sophia Hober ’s research primarily concerns the study of antibody and protein production. In answer to the question of what she sees as the “key to success” she immediately replies:
“Teamwork. A strong common research culture has become something of a hallmark for Sweden. For my part, collaboration with researchers from other universities is always necessary, as my strength lies in technology, while for others it is medical expertise.”

Sophia Hober by a staircase in Albanova

Quick collaboration between higher education, enterprise, cities and regions came to the fore in March 2020.
“When the pandemic broke out, a colleague and I came to the conclusion that “We have to do something,” and to get started quickly, we decided on two things: Firstly, rather than trying to create something totally new, we would look to further develop earlier findings that we knew about and understood. And secondly, that all research material would be produced locally, as it would not be possible to make major purchases while the disease was at its height.”

Hober’s research team at AlbaNova produced virus parts that were then measured and further analysed by colleagues at the SciLifeLab, with the goal of developing a rapid and reliable antibody test for Covid-19.
“The big challenge was to quickly gain access to clinical samples from three groups of people: from healthy, mildly sick and severely ill patients,” she explains. “Working closely with Karolinska Hospital meant we had access to samples from acute Covid patients, and calling the wrong number led to expanded collaboration with Danderyd Hospital, that was able to provide samples from the most severely ill patients in intensive care there.”

Sophia Hober in laboratory in front of glass shelves
As a continuation of the successful pandemic collaboration between KTH, Danderyd Hospital and Karolinska Hospital, a new collaborative project, the Pandemic Preparedness Center, has been initiated at the SciLifeLab, where Sophia Hober’s research group and other colleagues are going to investigate cyclical outbreaks of influenza, RS and Corona viruses.

The next step was to analyse samples from 25,000 healthcare employees within Region Stockholm.
This showed that personnel that worked with the most severely ill patients and had personal protective equipment were able to avoid infection to a greater extent than many others. Staff that worked in A&E who were trying to differentiate between patients with and without Covid-19, were infected to a far higher extent, for example.

Within just a couple of months of intensive research work, the measurement results clearly showed that only 6-7 percent of the population had become ill with Covid-19 in spring 2020. These research findings were published in the scientific periodical Nature Communications in June 2020.
“That became big news,” says Hober, who views communication as an important part of the role of researcher. “From an early stage, I was keen for us to communicate our research results, but I would never have predicted the massive media pressure that followed,” she says.

About Sophia Hober

In the news as: KTH Alum of the Year 2022
Title: Professor of Molecular Biotechnology at KTH
Lives: In Norra Djurgårdsstaden
Family: Husband, three children aged 30, 28 and 23 respectively, plus two Great Danes.

In upper secondary school, Hober was one of six girls, in four parallel classes, that studied the 4-year technology programme.

“It was a tough atmosphere at times, but I kept a pretty low profile as a teenager. I have always liked logical thinking and solving problems. I arrived at KTH from the engineering and technology upper secondary school in Uppsala. After graduating in Chemical Engineering at KTH, I started as a doctoral student in 1988, and have had a research group at KTH since 1996.”

What will you be doing in five years’ time?
“Wow, it is hard to look that far ahead, so much can happen in the meantime. I have six doctoral students that take a great deal of my attention and we are now working to finish writing scientific articles that we started before the pandemic.”

What would be your best advice for KTH students when it comes to succeeding?
“Make sure you do things you really think are fun, then things will work out best. If you like what you are doing, you will do it well. And have the courage to change the work you are doing and any contexts that are not good for you.”

Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: Fredrik Persson

Award citation

Professor Sophia Hober is appointed Alum of the Year 2022 for showing initiative in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With her experience in antibody analysis and protein production, she gathered research colleagues, funders, authorities and other actors and in a short time developed a high-quality serological test to measure antibodies. Sophia Hober was the spokesperson for the project and put KTH's research on the map.
By highlighting how research can provide direct societal benefits, Sophia Hober is an inspiration to others and a good ambassador for KTH.

Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Apr 11, 2022