Academy of Finland Newsletter, August 2009
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Academy of Finland to publish report on state and quality of scientific research in Finland
Evaluation of Finnish innovation system
Principles agreed for the reform of funding and structures of sectoral research
Evaluation shows: Systems biology research has increased computational and mathematical research in the field
Evaluation shows: Russia in Flux Research Programme strengthened Finland’s position as an expert on Russia
Funding: Japan-Finnish joint call in the thematic area of materials for photonics, optoelectronics, solar cells and batteries
Funding: Chilean-Finnish joint call in education research to open in October
Academy-funded research: Finnish scientists discover novel mechanism that increases the risk of common colorectal cancer
Academy-funded research: Finnish scientists discover nerve growth factor with possible therapeutic potential in Parkinson’s disease
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ACADEMY OF FINLAND TO PUBLISH REPORT ON STATE AND QUALITY OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
For the fifth time, the Academy of Finland has carried out a review of the state and quality of Finnish scientific research. The report on the state and quality of Finnish scientific research 2009, scheduled to be published on 10 November, comprises three parts: the development and present state of the Finnish research system; the state of Finnish scientific research; and development trends. An English summary will also be published.
The aim was to analyse Finnish scientific research and the Finnish research system in the European and global operating environment, to assess the state and quality of science by means of various indicators and comparisons, and, on the basis of analyses and assessments, to present the development trends of Finnish scientific research and the research system. The Academy of Finland has four Research Councils that cover all fields of science and research. In the review, each Research Council assesses the strengths, weaknesses and potential of the fields within its scope of expertise.
Many countries regularly publish reports which review the development of national research and innovation systems by means of specific indicators and analyse their relative strengths and weaknesses. For example, the US report Science and Engineering Indicators has been published at two-year intervals since 1973. France also regularly publishes reports on science and technology indicators. The analyses carried out in Canada and Japan are very comprehensive and goal-oriented.
The Finnish report and its English summary will be published on the Academy’s website and can also be ordered at viestinta(at)aka.fi.
EVALUATION OF FINNISH INNOVATION SYSTEM
An international panel evaluating the Finnish innovation system is completing its work. The evaluation is scheduled to be ready in early autumn 2009.
PRINCIPLES AGREED FOR THE REFORM OF FUNDING AND STRUCTURES OF SECTORAL RESEARCH IN FINLAND
The research funding directed to sectoral research will be re-allocated in Finland. Funding for multidisciplinary cross-sectoral research projects would be raised by increments to 10 million euros by 2015.
Ministries are working to draft proposals with a view to renewing the structure of the research institute field. On the basis of these proposals, the government’s highest science-policy organ, the Science and Innovation Council, will be assisted by the Advisory Board for Sectoral Research in compiling an action programme for the structural development that will be included as part of the structural development of the whole public research system.
In addition, Finland will carry out an extensive survey of the research activities of government research institutes and particularly of research activity that would be better suited to universities. The aim is to eliminate any overlap and strengthen the core functions of research institutes and universities. The survey is to be launched this autumn under the direction of a new advisory board for sectoral research.
Government research institutes are key actors and producers of knowledge within sectoral research. Sectoral research is designed to support social policy and social decision-making as well as preparation of decisions. It provides a key tool for policy-making and steering. It also facilitates the administrative sectors in accumulating their knowledge capital and in developing society. The ways that sectoral research is conducted and applied must be further developed so as to better meet the changing needs of society.
EVALUATION SHOWS: SYSTEMS BIOLOGY RESEARCH HAS INCREASED COMPUTATIONAL AND MATHEMATICAL RESEARCH IN THE FIELD
The Academy of Finland’s Systems Biology and Bioinformatics Research Programme (SYSBIO) was evaluated by an international panel that found the programme highly successful in terms of its scientific quality and added value generated. The evaluation panel noted that Finland was one of the first countries, together with Germany, to establish systems biology as a research priority. Thanks to this early start, Finland has been particularly successful in disseminating systems biology thinking in the life science community and able to attract high-level computational and mathematical research teams into life science application.
The panel was concerned that, despite this success, Finland has not yet achieved the critical mass required for long-term sustainability of systems biology research. The panel emphasised the importance of sustained support for technical infrastructure and software platforms created within the programme, as well as continuation of funding for systems biology and the training of young researchers in the field.
The Systems Biology and Bioinformatics Research Programme ran for four years from 2004 through to 2007. The programme was jointly carried out by the Academy of Finland and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. The main objective of the programme was to promote an integrative and holistic approach in research on complex biological processes at the systems level. Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity were essential characteristics of the programme, with bioinformatics having a central integrating role in the process. The evaluation panel was chaired by Professor Roland Eils from the German Cancer Research Center. The evaluation report is available on the Academy’s website.
EVALUATION SHOWS: RUSSIA IN FLUX RESEARCH PROGRAMME STRENGTHENED FINLAND’S POSITION AS AN EXPERT ON RUSSIA
The Academy of Finland’s Russia in Flux research programme was assessed as being topical and significant. According to the evaluation panel, the Academy is clearly funding important cutting-edge research on Russia. The panel further noted that the programme has strengthened Finland’s position within the EU as a leading expert in the field of Russian and Baltic economical, cultural, political and environmental research. The panel highly appreciated the international collaboration with Russian researchers that was involved in the projects, as well as the multidisciplinary and cross-discipline approach of the programme. The evaluation shows that the cooperation networks created within the programme are of value for all parties involved.
The programme funded altogether 33 projects, which ranged from landscape research to health sciences and from administrative science to media research. The overall funding for the projects amounted to nearly 10 million euro, and, in addition to the Academy of Finland, national funding was provided by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Ministry of Traffic and Communications.
The evaluation panel was chaired by Professor Stanley D. Brunn from the University of Kentucky, USA.
The evaluation report was published in the publication series of the Academy of Finland and is available on the Academy’s website.
FUNDING: JAPANESE-FINNISH JOINT CALL IN THE THEMATIC AREA OF MATERIALS FOR PHOTONICS, OPTOELECTRONICS, SOLAR CELLS AND BATTERIES
The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), the Academy of Finland and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, will open a joint call for proposals in the thematic area of materials for photonics, optoelectronics, solar cells and batteries. The JST opens the call in Japan in September. The projects to be funded will start in May 2010.
The joint call is arranged within the same thematic area during three successive years, and the theme will be defined in different ways in different years. This is the second call.
FUNDING: CHILEAN-FINNISH JOINT CALL IN EDUCATION RESEARCH TO OPEN IN OCTOBER
The Chilean National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) and the Academy of Finland will launch a bilateral call on education. The parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning the joint call at the Academy in June.
The themes of the call include education policies and the quality of education, priorities in teacher education and school development, learning and skills development, information and communication technology for education, and other social issues of education. The call will be open in October, simultaneously in Chile and Finland. In the projects to be funded, CONICYT will provide funding for the Chilean researchers and the Academy of Finland for the Finnish researchers.
The joint call in education research has been made possible by an initial agreement in 2007 about cooperation between the two funding organisations. On the basis of this agreement, a bilateral call has already been implemented in the Academy’s thematic research programme on sustainable energy.
Developing the education system and increasing support to education research have been identified as priority areas in Chile, and substantial funding has been directed into this field in recent years. The experiences in Finland of ways of using research in the planning and implementation of education and teacher training are of particular interest for Chilean educators and policy-makers. For Finnish researchers the bilateral call will open new opportunities for developing international collaboration and creating partnerships with Chilean researchers and research institutes around topics of mutual interest.
The funding cooperation between CONICYT and the Academy of Finland is a new opening for both partners and an example of the new directions in international cooperation between funding organisations. New forms of international cooperation between the EU and Latin America are also being sought in the European Union funded EULARINET network. A two-day workshop within the network gathered 50 participants from Europe and Latin America at the Academy of Finland in June.
ACADEMY-FUNDED RESEARCH: FINNISH SCIENTISTS DISCOVER NOVEL MECHANISM THAT INCREASES THE RISK OF COMMON COLORECTAL CANCER
Finnish Academy Professors Lauri Aaltonen and Jussi Taipale have identified and described a mechanism whereby a single-base change in the human genome increases the risk of colorectal cancer. The focus in this study was on a common single-base variant occurring in chromosome 8, which in itself causes only a slightly increased risk of cancer. However, the risk allele is carried by 75% of people of European origin and by almost 100% of African populations.
The high frequency of the gene variant makes it a very common cause of cancer at the population level. At the individual level, however, the variant does not cause significant disease predisposition because that can often be considerably reduced by lifestyle changes. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide and a major cause of cancer mortality.
The variant that increases the risk of colorectal cancer was found to be located in a regulatory region, where it changes the function of a key regulatory element important for the development of colorectal cancer. The scientists showed that the risk allele strengthens the binding of a regulatory factor in cancer cells, which activates pathways that are central to the development of cancer. The impacts of this altered genetic regulation on cell division are probably mediated via the MYC cancer gene, which is one of the best known accelerator genes in cancer.
The findings of this research lend support to the theory that human disease susceptibility is explained in part by differences in regulatory regions of the genome, and in gene expression. A closer understanding of the biological mechanisms involved will help to clarify the aetiology of colorectal cancer and pave the way to more effective cancer prevention. The research was funded by the Academy of Finland, the European Union, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation and the Cancer Foundation. The findings of the research were published in Nature Genetics.
ACADEMY-FUNDED RESEARCH: FINNISH SCIENTISTS DISCOVER NERVE GROWTH FACTOR WITH POSSIBLE THERAPEUTIC POTENTIAL IN PARKINSON’S DISEASE
Scientists in the Academy of Finland’s Neuroscience Research Programme have reported promising new results with potential implications for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. They have been studying the impacts of nerve growth factors in the treatment of PD, and their latest results show that a certain growth factor can be used to halt the progress of damage brought on by a nerve poison and possibly even restore the function of damaged cells.
The studies on nerve growth factors used an experimental PD model. Administration of the growth factor reduced motor disturbances. The severe motor disturbances that are seen in PD are caused by the slow degeneration of dopamine nerves in the brain. There are treatments that alleviate the symptoms of the disease, such as hand tremor, but they do not prevent or halt the degeneration of nerve cells. The nerve growth factors studied to date have slowed nerve cell degeneration to some extent, but they have had only limited therapeutic effect. Several known nerve growth factors, such as GDNF, also attach to extracellular tissue, possibly deterring their movement to nerve cells that require treatment.
Working under the supervision of Academy Professor Mart Saarma, scientists at the University of Helsinki Institute of Biotechnology have now been investigating two new nerve growth factors. MANF (mesencephalic astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factor) is released from glial cells in the midbrain and is a member of the same growth factor family as CDNF, another growth factor that Saarma’s team have investigated. A University of Helsinki team led by Professor Raimo K. Tuominen discovered that in the experimental PD model, MANF and CDNF injections into the brain prevented dopamine nerve destruction caused by nerve poison and to some extent even restored the function of damaged cells in rats.
The latest results suggest that MANF spreads more readily in brain tissue than other known growth factors. This may be a highly significant finding in respect to the development of growth factor therapy for PD. The results were published in the 29 July issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
Academy of Finland in brief: The Academy’s objective is to promote scientific research of a high standard through long-term quality-based research funding, research and science policy expertise and efforts to strengthen the position of science and scientific research. The Academy makes decisions on research funding worth about 300 million euros. Each year about 5,000 people benefit from Academy research funding. For more information, go to www.aka.fi or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.