Professor Leena Peltonen receives honorary title of Academician of Science

Helsinki, 29 OCT 2009

Professor Leena Peltonen, MD, has been awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science. The letter of appointment was presented to Professor Peltonen by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen on 29 October 2009.

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

Academician Leena Peltonen (b. 1952) is one of the world’s foremost and most respected experts in gene research. She has conducted pioneering work in the field of human gene research, with special focus on disease genes. Her research serves as an excellent example of how basic molecular biology can be combined with medicine to gain a better understanding of different diseases. Her research results have shed valuable new light on the basic mechanisms of several diseases.

The field of human genetics has advanced at an extraordinary rate. Rather than studying individual genes, its focus has expanded now to include the impact of the individual’s complete genome information on disease aetiology. The information gained from this research is used to help prevent diseases and produce new methods for care and prevention. “I have been extremely fortunate to be involved in this process from its very earliest stages. I have been in the right place at historically the right time,” says Academician Leena Peltonen.

In her research Peltonen has made successful use of the Finnish genotype and population datasets. Her team have identified genetic mutations associated with dyslipidemias, lactose intolerance, MS disease, schizophrenia, obesity and heart diseases. The team have also established how these mutations mechanistically lead to the actual onset of disease. Their efforts have paved the way to new diagnostic tests and to screenings for disease carriers.

“It’s not only our national gene pool that is unique providing technical short cuts in disease gene identification; the same can be said of our national health care records that span decades, our biological sample collections and above all the altruistic willingness of Finnish people to take part in our studies,” Peltonen observes.

National and international research and impact

Academician Leena Peltonen has held several professorships and other significant positions at research organisations both at home and abroad. She was a Professor at the National Public Health Institute in 1991–1994 and at the National Public Health Institute and the University of Helsinki in 1995–1998 and again in 2002–2003. In 1998 she moved to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to establish a major genetic research centre. After nine years in the United States, she was invited to become Head of Human Genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Europe’s leading genome research centre. In addition to her work at the Sanger Institute in the UK, Academician Peltonen is currently Research Director at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and at the National Institute for Health and Welfare as well as Visiting Professor at Broad Institute, Boston. She is also a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC) and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine.

Peltonen chaired the Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Health in 1995–1997, served as Academy Professor in 2003–2007 and was Director of the Centre of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics in 2000–2007. She has been extraordinarily productive in terms of her scientific output. Furthermore, she has played a pivotal role in training a new generation of gene researchers in Finland and the United States. She has received numerous prestigious science awards and holds several titles of Honorary Doctor and Honorary Professor.

To the media: Photographs from the ceremony and of Academician Peltonen are available on the Academy website at

Further information: Academician Leena Peltonen, tel. +358 20 610 8393 and Academy of Finland President Markku Mattila, tel. +358 9 7748 821 or +358 400 736 603.

Academy of Finland Communications
Maj-Lis Tanner, Head of Communications
tel. +358 9 7748 8347, +358 40 729 6736

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