Academy of Finland grants funding to Clinical Researchers to improve patient care and health

30 May 2022

The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment has decided to fund ten new posts as Clinical Researcher.

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 aim of the Clinical Researcher funding scheme is to promote clinical research careers and encourage medical doctors and other researchers working in clinical practice to engage in part-time research. The funding is paid to a Finnish university, university hospital or research institute that will be responsible for managing the funding.

The Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment attaches great importance to the Clinical Researcher funding. The scientific level of the applications has risen year by year, and this year the level of the applications was reviewed to be very good. All applications that were granted funding had received a rating of 5 or 6 from the review panels. The funded applications had been submitted by both physicians and other researchers working with patients.

In this round, the Research Council’s funding for Clinical Researchers totals around 2.3 million euros. The success rate was 26 per cent. Women accounted for 40 per cent of the funding recipients and 57 per cent of the applicants.

Professor Per Ashorn, Vice Chair of the Research Council, said: “In Finland, high-quality research is carried out in many clinical fields, but there are unfortunately few suitable funding opportunities for researchers working with patients. The Academy of Finland’s funding for Clinical Researchers is an excellent funding instrument that both supports clinical researchers at different career stages and significantly promotes patient care and human health.”

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

Teemu Karjalainen, MD, from Central Finland Health Care District studies musculoskeletal conditions. Musculoskeletal conditions such as joint or tendon pain are a common cause for pain and disability in middle-aged and older people. Different injection therapies or surgery are often used to treat these conditions when normal medicines and treatments do not provide sufficient relief for the symptoms. However, injections and surgery have limited evidence to support their use. Karjalainen’s project will synthesise existing evidence of whether injections or surgery have a positive effect on population health in common hand conditions. In addition, Karjalainen will evaluate how the applied research methods affect the results from surgical trials and how the outcomes should be measured. The results will help patients and clinicians to choose best option for their condition and researchers to produce data with better utility and reliability.

Eeva-Leena Kataja, PsyD, from the University of Turku studies fear sensitivity in children. Individual differences in sensitivity to danger-alerting stimuli and fear are central to many aspects of psychopathology. High fear sensitivity is associated with anxiety disorders, low fear sensitivity with low affiliativeness and high callous-unemotional (CU) behaviours. Kataja will test the hypothesis that individual variations in sensitivity to fear arise early at the age when infants begin to show the first signs of behavioural sensitivity to social signals of fear. Kataja will make use of, among other things, electronic monitoring of brain activity and eye-tracking. She will also study whether early-emerging variations in sensitivity to social signals of fear predict an associated risk of mental health issues. The overall aim is to increase our understanding of fear sensitivity and risk for psychopathology.

Panu Luukkonen, MD, from Helsinki University Central Hospital will investigate the energy motors of the liver – mitochondria – and their dysfunction as a key mechanism in the pathogenesis of fatty liver diseases (FLDs). Fatty liver diseases related to obesity and alcohol use affect up to a quarter of the world population, but their pathogenesis is poorly understood, and available medications are scarce. Luukkonen’s research project involves studying mitochondrial dysfunction in FLD patients before and after distinct treatments. The project will also study the effects of acquired risk factors of FLDs on hepatic mitochondrial function and investigate the association between hepatic mitochondrial dysfunction and FLDs in large population-based cohorts. The research is expected to provide important new information on the pathogenesis of FLDs with respect to acquired and inherited risk factors. The results may also help in the development of new medical therapies for FLDs.

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Academy of Finland Communications
Pekka Rautio, Communications Specialist
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