Obituary: Academician of Science P. Helena Mäkelä

23 Nov  2011

Finnish Academician of Science, Professor Emerita P. Helena Mäkelä has died. The Academy of Finland expresses its sincere condolences on the death of the esteemed Academician. Professor Mäkelä was awarded the honorary title of Academician in 2003, and she was then the first Finnish woman Science Academician.

Academician Mäkelä was born in 1930. She began her research work in 1952 at the University of Helsinki Department of Serobacteriology. In 1959–1961, she studied at Stanford University under the supervision of Nobel-Prize winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg.  When she returned to Finland from Stanford, she brought a new research field, microbial genetics, from which modern genetic engineering has emerged.

Academician Mäkelä’s position within the research in infectious diseases and clinical microbiology became significant, not only in Finland but also internationally. In her research, Mäkelä combined methods from molecular biology and clinical and epidemiological research. The work that earned Academician Mäkelä and her research team most recognition and has had the greatest impact on public health is a series of clinical investigations that led to the development of new vaccines to prevent serious bacterial diseases. 

Professor Mäkelä had a long career at the National Public Health Institute of Finland. She was also active in several positions of expertise and trust, both in Finland and internationally. She was Chair of the Finnish Board for Gene Technology and served as President of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) and the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS). She was particularly dedicated to helping children in developing counties and worked in vaccination programmes in Bangladesh and the Philippines, among others.

Academy of Finland Communications
Maj-Lis Tanner
Director of Communications
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