Research Programs Unit

Picture: Christopher Jackson, IKELOS

Research Programs Unit (RPU) of the Faculty of Medicine is a top-quality research environment. An international Scientific Advisory Board selects the programs and groups of the RPU through a competitive application procedure every six years. Each research program comprises groups that integrate clinical, translational and biomedical research. The current RPU includes several Academy Professors and Centers of Excellence of the Academy of Finland, and recipients of European Research Council (ERC) funding.

The current RPU programs that started in January 2013 are Genome-Scale Biology, Immunobiology, Molecular Neurology, Translational Cancer Biology, and Diabetes and Obesity. The RPU programs house together some 50 principal investigators. The scientists of the RPU also coordinate a number of core infrastructures in the Biomedicum Helsinki building. The total amount of personnel engaged in research is about 300, including professors, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, administrative and support staff. The scientists of the RPU have ample external funding, and they publish annually close to 300 articles in high-quality international journals.

Genome-scale biology (GSB) Research Program is a multi-disciplinary effort focusing on a common goal: genome-scale, high-throughput biological research and its translation into medical benefits. The focus areas of GSB are

  1. comprehensive analysis of signalling transduction pathways that regulate important cell processes such as cell cycle,
  2. cancer gene identification combining in silico methods with high-throughput technologies, and
  3. translation of genome-scale discoveries towards diagnostics and therapeutics.

GSB strives for these goals by utilizing extensively several high-throughput technologies, especially in genomics, transcriptional regulation, and cell-based functional screening and combine the data emerging from these technologies with methodological advances to integrate such data in a reliable manner.

Research Groups

The immune system is shaped by life-long exposure to microbes, conversely, the microbe community, both commensal and pathogenic, has to coexist with our immune system. The importance of these interactions to our health is being increasingly recognized in a wide range of medical specialities. In the Immunobiology Research Program (ImmBio), we study both sides of the immunity-microbe coexistence, approaching the question of its effects on health through immunology, microbiology, and host and microbe genetics. Our aim is to elucidate the factors and pathways that regulate the outcome, with special emphasis on immunological diseases.

Immunobiology Research Program was selected to RPU via a competition. It comprises at present ten research groups, employing, in total, a staff of approximately 70.

Research Groups

Molecular Neurology Research Program's ambitious goal is to clarify mechanisms of neurological and metabolic diseases. By identification of causative gene mutations, and by modelling them in various model systems, we increase molecular understanding of pathogenesis, which we use to develop and test potential therapies. We work closely with clinics of pediatrics and neurology, which enables efficient use of our research findings for diagnosis, patient treatment and counselling. The program hosts nine research groups, focusing on various fields of molecular medicine: mitochondrial biology and disorders,  stem cell biology and endocrinological disorders, metabolism, and to molecular basis of stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, dyslexia, neuropathies and genetic disorders of dogs.

The goal of the Translational Cancer Biology (TCB) Research Program is the discovery and validation of new mechanisms and targets in human cancer, and translation of the results into medical benefits.

TCB applies multiple genetic engineering and stem cell methods, RNAi and chemical biology technologies to investigate tumors in their microenvironment, to identify new therapeutic molecules affecting genetic driver programs in cancer, and to perform systematic analysis of factors contributing to cellular signaling, reprogramming, migration, and invasion.

To achieve the translational goals of the program, TCB focuses on the development of next-generation in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo cancer models, which are expected to predict the outcome of cancer treatments in the clinic. These include a variety of mouse cancer models, 3D-ex vivo cultures of mouse tumors and patient derived tumor tissue and stem-cell based organoids, as well as genetically tracable non-mammalian models. The models will be analyzed in coordination with the rapidly expanding information available from cancer genomes. Large patient materials are available via the clinical members of the TCB Program.

Research Groups

Diabetes and Obesity Research Program comprises seven closely integrated research groups. In total, about 100 people (professors, senior scientists, post-doctoral researchers, doctoral students and support staff) from the University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Central Hospital, National Institute for Health and Welfare, and Folkhälsan Research Center take part in the Diabetes and Obesity Research Program.

Vice Director
Juha Klefström
tel. +358 2941 25493

Scientific Officer
Päivi Saavalainen
tel. +358 50 448 7487

Head of Administration (RPU, Medicum, Clinicum)
Sanna Villikka
tel. +358 50 3148934

Merja Voutilainen
tel. +358 2941 25321

Human Resources Coordinator
Maria Vanonen
tel. +358 2941 25575

Maaria Puupponen
tel. +358 50 448 9981