Since 2016, Gunilla Jacobson has been the Deputy Director for the Molecular Imaging Program at the Stanford School of Medicine. Gunilla is also one of our fantastic Board of Directors, she is a great role model for our members with outstanding academic experiences and a background many would envy.

SACC-SF/SV had the privilege to interview Gunilla at her Stanford office, where she told us a bit about herself, her research, and why she believes Stanford is one of the top ranked universities in the world.


Gunilla was only six years old when she came to the Bay Area for the first time. Her mother, also a scientist at Stanford, brought Gunilla to Menlo Park where she spent three of her eraly school years. ”I have very strong memories from the time here even if I was just six years old. I remember the positive attitude in school and that it was okay to be good, it was even cool to be good. Later, when I moved to Sweden it was sometimes the opposite, people thought it was cooler to skip school, and to “skolka”.” Later on, when Gunilla moved back to Sweden, she always had a strong desire to return to the U.S. For that reason, she chose the chemistry program at Linköping University. Chemistry has always been fascinating for Gunilla and she would have the opportunity to study two of three years at The University of Colorado in Boulder, USA. This was the beginning of Gunilla’s success story in the chemistry world. She has a PhD in Chemistry from Uppsala University, and has conducted research at UT Austin in TX, at the US governmental laboratory in Los Alamos (LANL), and at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

Gunilla came to Stanford University in 2004, and is currently conducting researchinto new molecules and probes that will enhance a doctor’s ability to both diagnose and treat some of the most debilitating diseases plaguing humanity today (dementia, Alzheimer’s, cancer etc…). Gunilla made her research very approachable by taking the time to explain it through multiple examples of her cancer research.

First she explained her goals for cancer research. Today, we use a PET scan or an MRI to examine tumors and determine a treatment plan. After three months, another scan will be conducted to determine if the treatment has been effective. However, Gunilla is hoping to streamline this process, by using new probes injected into the body, allowing the doctor a more fluid picture of their patient’s response to a therapy.

Second, a tumor can sometimes expand during treatment, before it shrinks, even if the medicine is being effective. Due to this, Gunilla’s research will attempt to provide doctors with a molecular and chemical understanding of a tumor. Gunilla further explained, “Tumors need nutrition to grow and this is what we try to block.”

Third, tumors hide themselves from our immune system by sending “false signals”, making it difficult for our bodie’s own immune system to recognize life threatening disease. Gunilla hopes her research will block these “false signals” and allow the body to defend itself.

 Gunilla hopes her research will save lives by diagnosing and treating cancer quicker. Currently focused on early stage cancer, Gunilla told us, “we don’t only focus on early stage cancer, but also on late stage disease. To be able to solve late stage cancers we need to first understand its beginnings.”  

SACC-SF/SV aren’t the only ones curious about Stanford’s unique environment. We asked Gunilla about this, and she said she’s lucky to have experience from several diverse schools. She further explained the uniqueness of Stanford by saying,

One thing about Stanford is the extremely tough competition to get in. Everyone wants to come here. But as soon as you get in the competition disappears. Instead we collaborate.”

“The other thing that makes Stanford unique is the availability of resources.

Stanford has a great reputation which helps us get funds for research from funding agencies such as the NIH and the NSF. We always get the highest scores on our proposals for resources and equipment. Always. Also, we seldom have toseek out investors to commercialize our ideas, people are always asking what we have, and what’s next?!”

“The third thing is that we have access to the best students. Stanford does not only accept the student with the best résumé, they need to have special social skills. To be accepted you must have a bigger goal and in the application you need to show what you can do for Stanford and what you can contribute to your community? What do you give back? Have you done something special? The students are interesting, dedicated and they care about what they contribute to here!”

Gunilla has a bright view for the future; ”Five years from now I see myself here at Stanford, across the street in the new hospital that is currently being built. Hopefully, we can move in in 2018.”

We wish Gunilla the very best luck for the future!