11 March 2010

Obituary: Professor Leena Peltonen-Palotie, Academician of Science

Professor Leena Peltonen-Palotie, Academician of Science, has passed away after a serious illness. Professor Peltonen-Palotie, MD, PhD, was awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science in October 2009.  Peltonen-Palotie was one of the world’s foremost and most respected experts in genetic research. 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.

Academician Peltonen-Palotie was the recipient of several international accolades, including the Antoine Marfan Award, the Anders Jahre Prize, the European van Gysel Prize for Biomedical Research and the Eric K. Fernström Prize.

Over her career that spanned 37 years, Academician Peltonen-Palotie ran research groups at the University of Oulu, the University of Helsinki, the National Public Health Institute of Finland, the University of California Los Angeles, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Boston and the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK.

Her team identified genetic mutations associated with dyslipidemias, lactose intolerance, MS disease, schizophrenia, obesity and heart diseases. The team also established how these mutations mechanically lead to the actual onset of disease. Their efforts have paved the way to new diagnostic tests and to screenings for disease carriers. She also excelled in training of young students for science, having, among other things, mentored more than 70 PhD theses, thus influencing and inspiring several new generations of scientists. Importantly, she was also very determined to pass on this new information about human genetics and disease to the general public, being always open to explaining these sometimes difficult issues in an open, clear and personal way.

Academician Leena Peltonen-Palotie 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. Nine years later she was invited to become Head of Human Genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Europe’s leading genome research centre. She continued to work at the Sanger Institute in the UK for as long as her health permitted. In addition to her work at the Sanger Institute, Peltonen-Palotie was 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 was also a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC), the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the US National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine.

Peltonen-Palotie had close ties with the Academy of Finland, having chaired the Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Health in 1995–1997, served as Academy Professor in 2003–2007 and as Director of the Centre of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics in 2000–2007. She was extraordinarily productive in terms of her scientific output. Furthermore, she played a pivotal role in training a new generation of gene researchers in Finland and the United States. She was awarded several titles of Honorary Doctor and Honorary Professor and, notably, the honorary title of Academician of Science.

“Academician Leena Peltonen-Palotie has been a role model, both to scientists around the world and to individuals who hope to embark on careers in research. She has left a void in the Finnish scientific community that will be impossible to fill,” says Markku Mattila President of the Academy of Finland.

Photographs available at > Academy of Finland > Media services > Photo gallery or  

In lieu of floral tributes, a donation in memory of Academician Leena Peltonen-Palotie would be appreciated (Leena Palotie memorial fund, The Paulo Foundation, Nordea, account: FI91 1562 3000 1320 29, Swift: NDEAFIHH). From USA, the payment orders through JPMorgan Chase Bank, USA. (ABA 021000021, SWIFT-address CHASUS33) for further credit: Nordea Bank Finland Plc, Helsinki, Finland CHIPS UID 010204, SWIFT-address NDEAFIHH, IBAN account FI91 1562 3000 1320 29, Beneficiary: The Paulo Foundation, Address: Lonnrotinkatu 11 A, FI-00120 Helsinki, FINLAND

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