On the cutting edge of neuroscience

The Institute of Biotechnology on the University of Helsinki’s Viikki campus is home to one of Finland’s main concentrations of research and education in biotechnology.

On the cutting edge of neuroscience

Many of the Institute’s scientists seek to apply their research findings to make new products that advance human health, agriculture and the state of the environment.

Academy Professor Mart Saarma at the Institute sees the integration of the academia and business as a logical step, claiming, “It’s the researcher’s ethical responsibility to pass on the findings to benefit humankind, either by commercialization or by other means.”

Dr Saarma served as Director of the Institute for 18 years, to move on to head the Centre of Excellence in Molecular and Integrated Neuroscience Research at the Institute in 2009.

From his vantage point, Dr Saarma comments on the current situation in Finland’s biotechnology sector:

“First, there is little venture capital in the sector, the capital is short term, and investors insist on return on capital too soon. Importantly, scientists and innovations are not appreciated well enough."

“However, we’ve had a 20-year learning curve and now possess new business skills. Today the University of Helsinki plays an important financing role for scientists through its funds.”

A unique undertaking can significantly advance Finland’s biotechnology sector: six Finnish universities have founded Biocenter Finland, an organization that pools them to acquire such technologies together which are beyond the means of single research units.

“Finland is the only country which has created such national bioscience infrastructure network,” says Dr Saarma, who also served as Director of Biocenter Finland in 2008-2009.

A cure for Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disease caused by loss of the dopamine neurons in the mid-brain that are essential to the normal functioning of the central nervous system.

The research group led by Dr Saarma at the Institute of Biotechnology is studying the possibility to treat Parkinson’s disease with neurotrophic factors. The group has discovered a new neurotrophic factor, CDNF, and shown it to protect and even repair damaged dopamine neurons.

The research has proceeded to preclinical trials on non-human primates conducted at two U.S. universities.

Helsinki News 4/2010 » »

Major grant for developing new drugs for Parkinson’s
disease » »

Text: Johanna Lemola
Photo: Veikko Somerpuro
Source: Helsinki Info English Supplement

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