Sirpa Jalkanen and Ilkka Hanski receive honorary title of Academician of Science

4 Sep 2015

Academy Professor Sirpa Jalkanen from the University of Turku and Academy Professor Ilkka Hanski from the University of Helsinki have been awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science. President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö granted the titles at a presidential session today.

The letters of appointment will be presented to the new Academicians at a ceremony to be held in Helsinki on 17 September.

Based on nominations made by the Academy of Finland, the President of the Republic of Finland may confer the honorary title of Academician of Science to highly distinguished scientists and scholars. The title can be held by no more than sixteen Finnish scientists and scholars at a time.

Academician Sirpa Jalkanen – an international pioneer in research into cell migration in the immune system

Academy Professor Sirpa Jalkanen (b. 1954) is one of the world’s leading researchers of the migration mechanisms of immune cells. Among her key accomplishments are the discovery and characterisation of trafficking molecules that regulate inflammatory diseases and the spread of cancer. Together with her research team, she has produced a number of groundbreaking results and innovative observations that have turned previously held conceptions about immunology and vascular biology on their heads. She conducts high-risk, high-gain research with potential to yield significant results to advance the treatment of severe inflammatory diseases and prevent the spread of cancer.

Jalkanen is currently serving her third term as Academy Professor; her last appointment was for 2014–2018. The research post is a five-year position funded by the Academy of Finland. She has headed the MediCity Research Laboratory in Turku, Finland, since 1996, and been Research Professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) since 2006. At present, Jalkanen heads a research team within the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Translational Cancer Biology at the University of Turku.

Jalkanen’s research observations have contributed to the establishment of two biotechnology companies that focus on trafficking molecules as targets for drug development. One such drug under clinical investigation has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of acute lung injury (ALI). Another target for new drug treatments is liver damage. There is no working cure for either of these diseases, which is why the drugs being developed could potentially reduce patient mortality and suffering, and at the same time increase Finland’s lucrative business opportunities in the field of drug development.

Jalkanen’s team includes researchers active in both basic and clinical research, which has served to facilitate the application of top-tier basic research to clinical research, disease diagnostics and patient care. The team has built an extensive network of collaborators, working closely with scientists at renowned international universities (e.g. Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge) and Finnish universities and pharmaceutical companies.

Jalkanen has piloted a number of research projects that have succeeded in training dozens of internationally active researchers. She has also been presented with the Maud Kuistila Award for her contributions to researcher training. In addition, she has distinguished herself by promoting and further improving the basic training provided to physicians.

Jalkanen is also an active figure in society and business. She has been given numerous expert assignments both in Finland and abroad as well as memberships in foundations, research organisations and business companies. She is an influential force in the Finnish scientific community and has, for example, chaired the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. Jalkanen communicates her research findings in a number of different ways, via public lectures, newspaper interviews and television appearances, for instance.

“The most fascinating aspect of research is the thrill of the hunt and the joy of discovery. I’ve always sought to study the unknown, to uncover something of significance to the treatment or prevention of diseases. Admittedly, this approach may often lead you into uncharted territory with no map or signposts. And when you suddenly find the answer you were looking for – be it a new phenomenon, molecule or mechanism – you see things in a new light and find your way forward,” Jalkanen explains.

Sirpa Jalkanen’s research merits are also evidenced by her many Finnish and international awards. Most notable among these are the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim’s Young Researcher Award (1987), the Matti Äyräpää Award (2008, the most eminent prize in medicine in Finland) and the Datta Medal by the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (2011). In 2005, she also received the Anders Jahre Award, which recognises research of outstanding quality in basic and clinical medicine in the Nordic countries.

Jalkanen accepts the honorary title of Academician of Science with much appreciation. “I hope to carry the title wisely so that I can use my experience for the benefit of the scientific community and society at large.”

Academician Ilkka Hanski – one of the world’s leading ecologists

Academy Professor Ilkka Hanski (b. 1953) is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology. He is particularly well known for his pioneering work in metapopulation biology, where his research has significantly contributed to conceptual and theoretical development. He has published nearly 200 articles and several books on the topic.

Metapopulation biology is concerned with the ecological and evolutionary consequences of habitat fragmentation. Hanski’s research is characterised by an effective combination of theoretical and empirical studies. His long-term field study on the Glanville fritillary butterfly in the Åland Islands in Finland, a study started in 1991, has evolved into a unique and internationally well-known model system that has facilitated the study of many key questions in ecology and evolutionary biology. At the University of Helsinki, Hanski heads the Metapopulation Research Centre, which has been a Finnish Centre of Excellence funded by the Academy of Finland since 2000.

Hanski has also conducted research on biodiversity and biodiversity conservation more generally. Most recently, he has collaborated in a research project examining the effect of environmental biodiversity on allergies and other chronic inflammatory disorders. He has written popular books about the significance of biodiversity intended for a general audience.

Hanski actively participates in debates about environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. Researchers at the Centre of Excellence in Metapopulation Research have produced a number of tools based on metapopulation theory to support environmental administration, such as tools to identify priority areas for forest and mire conservation and habitat restoration. Through his research, writings and public appearances, Hanski has had substantial influence in society.

“Scientists are uniquely placed in their capacity to produce, interpret and communicate knowledge across the information society. At the same time, however, research is becoming increasingly specialised into narrow disciplines, and individual researchers may not always have the ability nor the interest to contemplate the wider implications of research results for society and societal change,” explains Hanski.

“There’s a wide consensus of opinion that politics and policies should be based on the best research results available, but we still lack appropriate political procedures that would support such policy-making. This shortcoming may compromise our capacity to tackle some of the big and wicked problems facing society.”

In many fields, Hanski says, research is advancing at such a rapid rate that the consequences are difficult to anticipate and may even encompass potentially alarming outcomes for society. He would like to see more discussion in society on new research areas. “Take, for example, synthetic biology and artificial intelligence – two fields that would benefit from broad and in-depth debate and deliberation. In Finland at present, there is almost no general discussion about these fields of research.”

Ilkka Hanski has been presented with several awards and recognitions both in Finland and abroad. Most notable among these is the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 2011. The Prize is awarded in disciplines that are not covered by the Nobel Prize. Hanski has received the Balzan Prize for Ecological Sciences in 2000 and the European Latsis Prize for biodiversity research in 2010. He is an elected member of many science academies, including the Royal Society of London (UK) and the National Academy of Sciences (US). He has been recognised for his contributions to research, science education and science popularisation. In Finland, for example, he received the State Award for Public Information in 2007.

Hanski and four other members of the Metapopulation Research Centre have received funding from the European Research Council (ERC), which is an exceptional achievement in a small country like Finland. Hanski has thus trained and inspired a whole new generation of skilled young scientists.

More information:

  • Sirpa Jalkanen, tel. +358 40 566 9611, sirpa.jalkanen(at)
  • Ilkka Hanski, tel. +358 40 734 2788, ilkka.hanski(at)
  • Heikki Mannila, President of the Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 001, firstname.lastname(at)


Photos and videos of the new Academicians are available at

For more information on Academicians of Science, please see the Academy’s website at


Academy of Finland
Riitta Tirronen
Communications Director
tel. +358 29 533 5118

Last modified 2 Oct 2015
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