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New Academy Research Fellows, Postdoctoral Researchers and clinical researchers in health research

6 June 2012

At its meeting on 6 June 2012, the Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Health decided to fund ten new Academy Research Fellows, 23 Postdoctoral Researchers and six clinical researchers. Within the September 2011 call, the Research Council received 74 applications for research posts as Academy Research Fellow, 121 applications for research posts as Postdoctoral Researcher and 24 applications for funding for clinical researchers.

The aim of the funding for Academy Research Fellows is to provide an opportunity for the most talented and advanced researchers to develop their skills in academic leadership and to establish themselves as independent researchers. The selected Academy Research Fellows have completed their doctorate no more than 3–9 years ago. The Academy Research Fellow term is five years.

Women account for 70 per cent of the grantees. In this round, the competition for funding was extremely fierce, due to the large number of applications and the decreased funds.

The aim of the funding for Postdoctoral Researchers is to advance the professional competence and independence of the most promising young researchers who have recently earned their doctorate. Postdoctoral Researchers are encouraged to be mobile and to collaborate across international and sectoral borders. The three-year funding period may include one or more mobility spells as well as funding for the researcher’s return to Finland.  

The Research Council’s funding opportunity targeted at clinical researchers was now open for the seventh time. The objective of this funding is to support researchers in clinical practice by providing funding for part-time research. The aim is to promote clinical research careers in collaboration with, for example, university hospitals, and to encourage medical doctors working in clinical practice to engage in research so that they can continue to pursue their research career while in specialist training and, upon completion of that training, alongside with clinical practice.

According to the review panels composed of foreign experts, the scientific quality of the applications was overall good; the highest-rated projects are also internationally competitive.

 

The new Academy Research Fellows are researching topics such as the following:

Major chronic diseases are common in working populations. In her project, Academy Research Fellow Marianna Virtanen (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health) will determine modifiable working-life risk factors associated with the outcomes of depression, coronary heart diseases, alcohol use disorders and type 2 diabetes. The aim is to describe the outcomes in various ways, for example incident co-morbid diseases and sustained participation in working life (as opposed to chronic or recurrent work disability, sickness absence, disability pension), compare the four diseases as predictors of outcome and develop a more fine-grained work-related outcome measure of recovery. Another aim is to examine working life characteristics as predictors of various outcomes and the association between unstable labour market status and non-standard working hours and the outcomes. Her research team will also study the potential age-related differences and the contribution of individual lifestyles to the outcomes, and investigate differences between residential areas and differences between Finland, the UK and France.

Brown adipose tissue is a tissue that consumes energy instead of storing it. A cold environment is known to activate brown adipose tissue function to produce heat. The function of human brown adipose tissue is poorly known. Brown adipose tissue mainly uses fatty acids as its energy source, whereas glucose is used in minor amounts. Glucose consumption increases ten-fold in a cold environment, but fatty acid consumption is not known in humans. In her project, Academy Research Fellow Kirsi Virtanen (Turku PET Centre, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital) will measure fatty acid consumption in healthy, normal-weight adults and in obese subjects who may have an impaired brown adipose tissue function.

 

The new Postdoctoral Researchers are researching topics such as the following:

The progression of atherosclerosis arises from the interplay between macrophages, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells that influence each other and modify the micro-environment of the plague. However, little is known of the interactions between these cells. In the first part of her research, Postdoctoral Researcher Minna Kaikkonen (University of Eastern Finland) will focus on revealing transcriptional and functional responses of these cells to inflammatory stimuli and hypoxia using next-generation sequencing methods. Stimulating revascularisation is an attractive strategy to treat ischemia in patients with advanced atherosclerosis.

Pathologically, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterised by amyloid plaques that consist of an A-beta (Ab) peptide. However, most studies have failed to find a correlation between plaque load in AD brains and cognitive performance. On the other hand, the levels of soluble toxic Ab species (called oligomers) in AD brains correlate much better with cognitive decline. Therefore, amyloid plaques may be the result of neuron attempt to get rid of Ab oligomers. In her project, Postdoctoral Researcher Irene Gureviciene (University of Eastern Finland) will test two prevailing hypotheses by using a transgenic mouse model of AD that develops amyloid plaques and memory impairment with increasing age. Her research team will use carefully placed electrodes to record synaptic functions, excitability and probe hippocampal synaptic plasticity in the vicinity and at a distance from amyloid plaques in mouse brain slices. In addition, the team will test whether mice bearing amyloid plaques are more resistant to the effect of exogenously applied oligomeric Ab than mice without plaques.

 

Example of funded clinical research:

A typical feature of spontaneous electrophysiological activity of preterm babies is the presence of long silent periods and elements called sharp waves. In his clinical work, Sampsa Sipilä, MD, (University of Oulu) will research the neonatal electroencephalogram (EEG) to identify the normal and abnormal patterns in relation to the age of the patient. Knowledge of the nature of various EEG patterns helps in guiding treatment of human neonates.

 

More information:

  • Academy Research Fellows: Science Adviser Aki Salo, tel. +358 9 7748 8244, aki.salo(at)aka.fi
  • Postdoctoral Researchers: Science Adviser Heikki Vilen, tel. +358 9 7748 8456, heikki.vilen(at)aka.fi
  • Clinical Researchers: Science Adviser Sanna Marjavaara, tel. +358 9 7748 8206, sanna.marjavaara(at)aka.fi
  • List of the funded Postdoctoral Researchers, Academy Research Fellows and clinical researchers

Academy of Finland Communications
Communications Specialist Vesa Varpula
tel. +358 9 7748 8458
vesa.varpula(at)aka.fi

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