Mart Saarma receives a prestigious Nordic science prize

Academy Professor Mart Saarma’s contribution to research into neurotrophic factors has been awarded with the Lundbeck Foundation Nordic Research Prize 2009 of DKK 2 million, or nearly EUR 270,000.

Mart Saarma

The Danish Lundbeck Foundation awards the prize annually to a Nordic scientist for outstanding achievement in research. Professor Saarma works as a group leader in the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Helsinki. His research group has made breakthrough research identifying a family of new neutrotrophic factors. The study was published in Nature in 2007.

Saarma’s research may result in a new type of drug therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Current therapies are unable to affect the loss of nerve cells associated with the disease. The neurotrophic factors now discovered could protect these cells and even rescue damaged cells.

“The journey from trial phase to the introduction of a drug therapy is long and what is now required is both competent scientists and equipment. The prize was substantial and could not have come at a better time,” says Saarma.

The prize was not awarded to Saarma for a single discovery, but rather for his entire contribution to research into neurotrophic factors.

“I take the prize as recognition for my entire research group and the Institute of Biotechnology, which I have headed for nearly two decades and where I now also act in the capacity of a group leader,” Saarma says.

Saarma’s research group has been appointed the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Molecular and Integrative Neuroscience Research by the Academy of Finland

This was the second time that the Lundbeck Foundation Nordic Research Prize went to a Finnish-based scientist. Seven years ago the prize was awarded to Academy Professor Kari Alitalo of the University of Helsinki.

FCoE in Trophic Factors in Neuronal Development, Plasticity and Disease

Text: Marja Lintula
Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

Translation: AAC Noodi Oy

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