More than €14m in Academy Project funding to health research

(23 Apr 2014)

The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Health has granted Academy Project funding to 33 high-level research projects. In this year’s funding round, the Research Council had a total of 14.1 million euros to distribute.

“The success rate was only 15 per cent and the number of applications increased by 9 percent on the previous year. A growing number of applications plus cuts in available funding equals an ever-fiercer competition for the Academy’s project-based research funding. The situation is disconcerting for applicants, reviewers and the Research Council alike,” says Professor Tuula Tamminen, chair of the Research Council for Health. The end result of this situation is that very many high-quality and innovative projects have to be turned down.

Academy Project funding is the Academy’s key funding opportunity, designed to promote the quality and diversity of research and its capacity for renewal. The funding provides researchers with an opportunity to carry out scientifically ambitious research, to achieve new breakthroughs and to engage in high-risk research. Most projects that are granted Academy Project funding are international collaborations.

Examples of new Academy Projects:

Noora Kotaja (University of Turku) conducts research into male germ cells. Successful spermatogenesis, the process in which motile sperm cells are produced from male germ cells, is a prerequisite for male fertility. It is therefore essential to learn the mechanisms governing spermatogenesis in order to identify the risk factors for male reproductive health problems. Kotaja’s study will provide novel and important information about the RNA control mechanisms that support the preparation of haploid cells for fertilisation and inheritance.

Ari Haukkala (University of Helsinki) studies public understanding of genetics and genetic risk communication. It is today easier and cheaper than ever before to sequence the entire human genome. Given the amount and complexity of genetic information, plus the ethical, legal and social implications of using this technology, the application of genomic information in the clinical settings will present a huge challenge in terms of educating and informing healthcare workers and the general public. Haukkala will explore, for instance, how people will react to clinically significant incidental findings; how genetic risk score information for common multifactorial diseases is received and interpreted by study subjects; and what kind of genomic health literacy knowledge is essential to measure and promote publicly.

Outi Vaarala (National Institute for Health and Welfare) investigates the association of gut microbiota with immunological alterations in children at risk of type 1 diabetes. The ultimate aim of Vaarala’s study is to identify bacterial species or strains as candidate regulators of immunological changes in type 1 diabetes, and to develop prevention of beta-cell destruction. The project will also evaluate whether the immunological changes are useful as biomarkers for the disease progression from beta-cell autoimmunity to clinical diabetes.

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