Academy of Finland announces decisions on clinical researcher funding

26 May 2021

The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment has decided to fund ten new posts as Clinical Researcher. The high scientific quality of the applications was highlighted in the funding decisions.

The Academy of Finland funds part-time research by physicians and researchers engaged in clinical practice. The aim is to promote clinical research careers in cooperation with, for example, university hospitals, and to encourage medical doctors and other researchers working in clinical practice to engage in research.

This year, the Clinical Researcher funding granted by the Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment totals 2.4 million euros. In all, 45 applications were processed and 22 per cent of these were granted funding. Six of the ten funding recipients are women. Women accounted for 47 per cent of all applicants.

The Research Council placed emphasis on the high scientific quality of the proposed research and the applicant’s qualifications and suitability in terms of the funding scheme. The Research Council’s criteria also included strong societal impact and initiatives that contribute to scientific renewal.

The Research Council felt that the scientific level of this year’s applications was excellent. The Research Council estimates that the scientific level of applications has increased steadily over the past few years. The Research Council was also pleased to see that the number of applications increased from last year.

The Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment attaches great importance to the funding for clinical researchers. The funding has been found to be very significant because cuts made in the research funding of university hospitals in previous years have led to compromises on clinical research. The funding scheme for clinical researchers also provides extensive funding for researchers in different fields, such as physicists and veterinarians. Indeed, the Research Council is keen to encourage clinical researchers to apply for funding with an ever wider thematic scope.

The clinical researcher projects funded in this round will study, among other things, risk factors affecting the emergence and progression of liver diseases and new treatments for obesity. In addition, the funded projects will develop precision drug treatments for leukaemia in children and young people as well as precision diagnostics for dementia.

Ursula Schwab, the Chair of the Research Council, said: “The applications were of exceptionally high quality and combine clinical work and research in an excellent way. The impact potential of the funded applications was estimated to be high.”

The Research Council funded several scientifically excellent Clinical Researchers. Here are a few examples:

Anniina Färkkilä, MD (University of Helsinki), seeks new therapies for ovarian cancer. Cancer progresses when it is able to avoid an effective attack by the immune system. Cancer cells have developed several mechanisms that weaken the immune system. New cancer therapeutics targeting these mechanisms of immune evasion have emerged as a promising approach in multiple cancers. Färkkilä aims to uncover how the genetic profiles of tumours lead to immune evasion in ovarian cancer. The results of the research can help in finding new immunotherapies and combination treatments to improve the outcomes of ovarian cancer.

Sami Väänänen, PhD (University of Eastern Finland), studies osteoporosis, the most common bone disease. Measuring bone mineral density by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is considered the gold standard of osteoporosis diagnosis. Väänänen seeks to discover how deep learning methods could exploit DXA information to improve osteoporotic fracture risk prediction. The project utilises large image sets produced in other research projects and in public healthcare. The results have potential to improve fracture risk assessment and osteoporotic fracture prevention without increasing the costs to the healthcare system.

Sanna Viitanen, DVM, PhD (University of Helsinki), investigates antimicrobial resistance and its effects. The overuse of antibiotics and the emerge of multi-resistant bacteria are currently considered one of the most important global threats to human health. As the development of multi-resistant bacteria in companion animals has a direct effect on the humans living in the same household with their pets, there is an urgent need to implement new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies that can reduce antimicrobial use also in companion animals. Viitanen aims to find tools that enable the reduction of antimicrobial use in dogs and cats with lower respiratory tract diseases.

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