Metabolomics & Sports Tech - an interview with Stina Lundgren Högbom PhD

Stina is SVEXA Director of Biochemistry - Biomarkers & Metabolomics, Research & Outreach Manager at Stockholm Center for Sports and Business at SSE, Program Manager SPIN Accelerator Sweden.

Stina Lundgren Högbom, SVEXA Director of Biochemistry
Stina Lundgren Högbom, SVEXA Director of Biochemistry

Tell us a little about your background?

I’m a former runner that got into biochemistry and did my PhD at the Karolinska Institute in Medical Biochemistry. Later worked with diagnostic tools and MedTech and realized how much I missed sports and wanted to know more about what happens in the body during workouts. I realized that I could combine my earlier degree in biochemistry with deeper knowledge within sport science, and so got interested in Metabolomics.

Another part of me has always been fascinated by entrepreneurship. Combine entrepreneurship with sports and tech and you really have my full interest! During the spring of 2019 I have been the program manager for SPIN Accelerator Sweden. This was a three months SportsTech accelerator program run by the Swedish Olympic Academy in partnership with HYPE Sports Innovation, where we selected ten startups that supported and empowered the athlete. A lot of the time that I don’t spend with SVEXA is used to develop the ecosystem around Sports Tech startups in the Nordic countries.

What are metabolomics, and how could you apply it to athletic performance?

Metabolomics is the study of metabolites. Metabolites are compounds of low molecular weight in comparison with nucleic acids and proteins, and can be either organic or inorganic compounds. These molecules can be reactants, intermediates or products of an enzymatic reaction in our bodies.

Metabolomics can be used to quantitatively study all of the metabolites in a sample to find out the relationships between them and other biochemical substances, and thus better understand our overall biological functions. Metabolites are released in both body fluids (saliva, plasma, urine) and in various tissues.

Through metabolomics on saliva, for example, we can get answers to how test subjects react physically at specific times during training. In metabolomics analyses, there are different ways to go about it; Either a targeted analysis can be used where it is decided in advance what metabolites and which biological process to be analyzed, or alternatively as many different metabolite-process relationships as possible can be analyzed. The latter way of conducting analyses makes it possible to identify completely new biomarkers or new patterns.

You’re involved in a lot of sports tech initiatives. What trends have you seen in recent years?

I see that more and more people are getting interested in Sports Tech and in particular the need within sports to use digitization and innovation to explore the knowledge and tech that is available to help athletes stay uninjured and take the next step in their development. Another important trend is the bridge that Sports Tech is between health and activity. Sports Tech is not only for the top athletes, it is for everybody and as such is an important tool to motivate and inspire people to live more active lives.

What are you currently most excited about in the field of sports science?

I am really looking forward to hear and read moore about the research that Filip Larsen in our own team (Svexa’s Chief Science Officer) has conducted as I think their study can get a major impact for the future. Together with his colleagues, Filip has conducted an overtraining intervention analysis where they use both metabolomics, subjective ratings, sensors and biopsies to see how athletes react to overtraining as a group and on an individual level.

How is the sports technology field growing in Sweden?

The interest is growing both from investors and the federations - but more broadly Sweden has a big opportunity to come together with it’s Nordic neighbours to take a major role within the Sports Tech landscape in Europe. We have a lot of great startups already but we need even more, more investments and an ecosystem that is ready to support those startups to gain momentum.

What’s the best example you’ve seen of a sports team/athlete applying science to improve their performance?

On the world stage, I think Michel Phelps is a great example of how a great athlete can stay on top and develop even further by training smarter using the help of technology and knowledge that has been gathered during many years about him as a person and how he as an individual will react as he gets older. At SVEXA we’ve started working with the Swedish Swimming Federation to help them optimize training and improve the performance of each individual athlete as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.

As a keen athlete, how do you apply your scientific knowledge to your own athletic pursuits?

I wish I had had the knowledge that I have now when I was a competitive athlete myself. I am now careful to think about how I organize my workouts during the week and I love to look at my collected data from my watch.

Why did you join SVEXA?

For me SVEXA stands for the importance to understand each person and give that person the possibility to reach the best version of themselves - that’s a great goal. For myself I get the possibility to combine my three major interests Sports, Science and Entrepreneurship into one exciting role.

Stina running
Stina is still a keen runner