Miia Kivipelto and Otso Ovaskainen receive Academy of Finland Awards

Academy recognizes two outstanding researchers


Two outstanding researchers were recognized at the Academy’s annual Science Gala in Helsinki on Thursday, 22 October 2009. The Academy of Finland awards were presented to Miia Kivipelto, Academy Research Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the University of Kuopio, and to Professor Otso Ovaskainen from the University of Helsinki. Kivipelto was recognized for the social impact of her work and Professor Ovaskainen for his scientific courage.

Award for social impact goes to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease researcher

Adjunct Professor and Academy Research Fellow Miia Kivipelto’s research interests lie in treatable risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which are among the fastest growing public health concerns and economic challenges in Finland. Kivipelto is currently leading a research team at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, the University of Kuopio and the National Institute for Health and Welfare that is interested in the combined effect of environmental and genetic factors in memory disorders. Their data consist primarily of population-based epidemiological studies, but the team have now also launched their first lifestyle intervention study that is aimed at reducing the risk of memory disorders and dementia. Kivipelto is an internationally respected expert in her field and has worked actively to publicize her team’s results and discoveries about dementia.

The single biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, but the presence of other risk factors significantly increases the risk of developing the disease. Kivipelto and her team have found that in individuals with a high genetic propensity for AD, physical exercise and appropriate nutrition reduce the risk of developing the disease. Findings reported by Kivipelto indicate that regular physical exercise in middle age can significantly cut the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life. Her results suggest that active individuals who take exercise at least twice a week have a 50% lower risk to develop dementia and a 60% lower risk to develop AD than less active people.

“Our research has shed considerable light on the risk factors for dementia and AD. We have found that high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, lack of physical exercise, excessive consumption of saturated fats and alcohol have adverse effects on the brain and increase the risk of dementia. This is an important message and should encourage people to consider their lifestyle choices. By looking after their heart, people can also prevent dementia,” Kivipelto says. The results of her team have benefited the whole field of dementia research. “It really isn’t all in the genes: we can make a difference to how we age by making informed and healthy lifestyle choices,” she concludes.

The Academy of Finland Award for social impact is granted to a researcher who has significantly contributed to increasing public awareness of scientific research or the researcher’s job, who has inspired interest in science, who has actively contributed to public debate in society or otherwise strengthened the role, application and impact of research in society.

Award for scientific courage to mathematician doing research in species endangerment

Professor Otso Ovaskainen is awarded for research work that he undertook during his Academy Fellowship from 1 August 2004 to 31 July 2009. He is interested to explore species survival in a changing world using mathematical models and statistical methods. Ovaskainen received his PhD from the Department of Mathematics at Helsinki University of Technology, but since then he has branched out successfully to the field of ecology. In recent years he has been in charge of the mathematical biology research team at the Centre of Excellence in Metapopulation Biology. In autumn 2009, he took up the position of Professor of Mathematical Ecology at the University of Helsinki.

In his research Professor Ovaskainen applies his mathematical skills and expertise, without preconditions, to ecological problems. A major strength of his work is its multidisciplinary orientation. “As a mathematician, I can create new statistical methods for ecologists and evolutionary biologists that allow them to get more out of their observations,” he explains. On the other hand, in a bid to understand the causal links between ecological issues, he is also working to develop a general mathematical theory. One of his main goals is to create realistic population models that take account of different organisms’ capacity for proliferation in a fragmented environment. “I personally am particularly interested in species endangerment. I want to understand why certain species become endangered and others don’t, and to find cost-effective ways of reversing this trend,” Ovaskainen continues. Professor Ovaskainen has demonstrated exceptional scientific courage and creativity in his research, which not only spans two completely separate fields, but also integrates basic and applied research.

Professor Ovaskainen enjoys an international reputation as a distinguished mathematician and ecologist. He has also received international recognition for his pathbreaking efforts to apply mathematical efforts to resolving ecological problems. Ovaskainen was awarded the European Research Council’s (ERC) Starting Independent Researcher Grant during the first funding period in 2008.

The Academy of Finland Award for scientific courage is granted to a researcher who has shown exceptional scientific audacity, creativity or innovation in their work. The award can also be granted for a novel or original research idea, for forward-looking work that transcends scientific boundaries or for a willingness to take risks in research.

Academy of Finland Awards intended to encourage researchers

Nominees for the Academy of Finland's Awards shall hold the position of Academy Research Fellow or work as Academy-funded Postdoctoral Researchers. Nominations are submitted by the Research Councils to the Academy's Board, who makes the final decision. The purpose of the award is to recognize and encourage outstanding researchers with dynamic career prospects and to highlight goals and objectives that the Academy considers important. This is the seventh time that the awards are announced. The award recipients are presented with a mouth-blown glass ornament entitled The Moment by Miia Liesegang.

Further information:
- Vice President (Research) Riitta Mustonen, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 9 7748 8220, riitta.mustonen (at)
- Academy Research Fellow Miia Kivipelto, Karolinska Institutet, tel. +46 8 690 5822, mobile +46 73 99 409 22,
- Professor Otso Ovaskainen, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 9 191 57924, mobile +358 50 309 2795,
- Photos of the award recipients are available through the Finnish News Agency STT from around 9pm on 22 October. In addition, a videoclip of around one minute and an audioclip in mp3 format will be made available for media use.
- Introductory videos (with English subtitles) on the Award recipients will be posted on the Academy website on 23 October; go to

Academy of Finland Communications
Terhi Loukiainen
tel. +358 9 7748 8385, 040 828 1784

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