Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment funds Clinical Researchers, emphasises high scientific quality

27 May 2020

The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment today granted funding for 83 Academy Projects that include a total of 87 subprojects. The funding totals around 40 million euros. The success rate was 18 per cent.

The funding amount includes a separate additional funding, 9.4 million euros in total, allocated to early-career researchers. The applicant was considered to be an early-career researcher if no more than ten years had passed since their first doctorate or if no more than 14 years had passed since their first doctorate if they had since completed medical specialist training.

The Research Council’s contribution to the career development of early-career researchers was emphasised by this additional earmarked budget authority, which enabled the Research Council to fund an increasing number of early-career researchers. All in all, early-career researchers succeeded well in the call. With the targeted funding, the Academy of Finland was able to fund 21 additional projects led by early-career researchers.

The most important criterion in the funding decisions was the high scientific level of research. In addition to supporting early-career researchers, the Research Council also wanted to place strong emphasis on how the projects contribute to scientific renewal.

Professor Ursula Schwab, the chair of the Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment, said: “The Research Council funded applications from a broad range of research fields in its remit. The funded projects are of high scientific quality, they contribute to the regeneration of science, and they have potential for societal impact.” All funded applications received a rating of 5 or 6 in the review.

The Research Council also granted shorter-term funding for nine projects classified as containing high risks but also a high scientific quality. Their potential was estimated to be so significant that the Research Council wanted to support their start-up.

The Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment funded a wide range of Academy Projects, with a focus on early-career researchers. Examples of projects with high scientific and social impact:

Antti Sajantila from the University of Helsinki investigates the Levänluhta and Käldamäki water burials, which are among the longest studied archaeological sites in Finland. The intriguing feature in both these places is their exceptional use as burial sites. Both sites contain human and animal remains, fragmented and scattered within a wetland. Ancient DNA (aDNA) studies carried out in 2018 and 2019 have suggested a relatedness between the Levänluhta people and the present-day Sámi. Sajantila’s project is aimed at exploring the origin of the Levänluhta and Käldamäki remains through aDNA research and by analysing stable isotopes and virus bio portfolios. Sajantila will also make use of radiocarbon dating to study how long the sites have been used for burials.

Juhani Junttila from the University of Oulu studies the background and causes of sudden cardiac death (SCD). In more specific terms, Junttila will analyse the genetic background and clinical characteristics of non-ischemic SCD, that is, SCD unrelated to coronary artery disease. During the last decades, advances have been made in reducing cardiovascular deaths in the working-age population, but the numbers of SCDs have not changed. Especially the proportion of non-ischemic SCDs has been on the rise. Myocardial fibrosis plays an important role in non-ischemic SCDs. Fibrosis disrupts the pump function of the heart, but also impairs the electrical function. This can lead to lethal arrhythmias. Junttila will also study relatives of SCD victims in order to detect new clinical markers to identify subjects at risk of SCD. The results of the research are expected to help reduce the number of SCDs in the future.

Maija Heikkilä from the University of Helsinki studies lake ecosystems. Arctic lakes and ponds are of key importance to carbon cycling, biodiversity and socio-economic sustainability. They cover up to half of the Arctic tundra landscape adjacent to the seasonally ice-covered Arctic Ocean. The accelerated year-round sea-ice loss may have potential direct and indirect impacts on the functioning of Arctic lake ecosystems. Heikkilä’s project will use natural biogeochemical sediment archives to investigate linkages between sea-ice cover and Arctic lake ecosystems over the past warm and cold phases of the Common Era. The results are expected to improve our understanding of the interconnections of Arctic system components, specifically the effects of disappearing sea ice on lake ecosystems.

Satu Ramula from the University of Turku conducts research into biological invasions, which result from introduction of non-native species. Biological invasions pose a global threat to biomes, for example by disrupting inter-species relations. Plants form a significant part of all invasive species and several hypotheses have therefore been proposed to explain their success. However, previous studies on plant invasions and their related mechanisms have mostly focused on aboveground systems, overlooking belowground mechanisms. Ramula’s project will investigate how soil microbes (pathogens and mutualists) may either promote or prevent plant invasions. The method used is a combination of manipulative experiments, modern molecular tools and demographic models. The results of the research are expected to improve our understanding of factors that shape plant communities beyond invasive species, and they have applications in biological control and weed management.

Inquiries and more information:

  • List of funded projects
  • Funding criteria and policies of the Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment
  • Vera Mikkilä, Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 048, firstname.lastname(at)
  • Suvi Broholm, Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 045, firstname.lastname(at)
  • Jaana Lehtimäki, Senior Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 060, firstname.lastname(at)
  • Sirpa Nuotio, Senior Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 082, firstname.lastname(at)
  • Aki Salo, Senior Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 104, firstname.lastname(at)
  • Timo Sareneva, Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 106, fornamn.efternamn(at)

Academy of Finland Communications
Pekka Rautio, Communications Specialist
tel. +358 295 335 040

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