Research

As the name of the Department suggests, the clinical research conducted at the Department of Production Animal Medicine focuses on domestic animals. The Department aims to study animal diseases and specifically to promote animal health and welfare. Activities are guided by the Department’s own research policy. The deputy head of the Department is responsible for organising regular research seminars.

As a rule, professors lead the research groups in their own fields, but some larger fields have research groups led by other experts (adjunct professors/docents). To date, research projects have received funding from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Academy of Finland, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES), the busines sector and public as well as private foundations. Research on animal welfare has also received funding from Nordic sources. In fact, the Department’s aim is to increase the amout of external funding.

The Department’s cooperation partners include the Faculty’s other departments, other departments at the University of Helsinki (Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Faculty of Medicine), other Finnish universities (Kuopio and Turku), research institutes operating under government ministries (the Finnish Food Safety Authority, MTT Agrifood Research Finland, the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute), as well as a number of universities and research institutes abroad.

For further information: Reseach Portal Tuhat

Introduction and significance of research

Originally, the aim of the research was to maintain the high quality of semen from artificial insemination bulls and boars, as well as that of artificial insemination products. The goal was to identify and remove external and hereditary factors that have an adverse effect on fertility. In the last five years, the world has changed markedly. At the moment, we are prepared to take on new challenges, financial realities permitting.

Our research projects employ, among other methods, SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) genotyping and various PCR techniques, such as sequencing and quantitative PCR. Research materials are stored in a private DNA and RNA collection where large amounts of interesting material not related to the projects are also stored. At the forefront, however, are research ideas originating from clinical findings, statistics and speculation.

The group’s motto is alea iacta est - the die is cast.

Central research areas / subjects / strategies / goals

Hereditary spermatogenesis disorders in Finnish boars and bulls

  • We are studying the genetic causes underlying primordial germ cell migration disorders in, e.g., bovines. We have identified the ectopic position of the duplicated KIT gene in homozygous form as the fundamental genetic cause of primordial germ cell migration disorder and gonadal hypoplasia in both genders of Northern Finncattle and the Swedish Mountain breed.
  • We are investigating the genetic cause for sperm tail immobility and abnormal development in certain Ayrshire bulls.
  • TEX14 mutation in boars causing azoospermia, or the halting of spermatogenesis in the spermatocyte phase (due to intercellular bridges becoming inactive). This study is in its finishing stages. New cases have recently been found. This is the only natural mutation of the TEX14 gene that has been described.
  • Bulls whose sperm motility is very poor even though the sperm plasma membranes are intact and morphology is otherwise normal. Research is conducted in broad cooperation with other parties and we are approaching a breakthrough. End results will be confirmed in the near future.
  • Other spermatogenesis disorders in Ayrshire bulls.

Genetic causes of stillborn calves and/or calves with genetic disorders and abnormal development

  • This study commenced approximately 5 years ago and has focused on the most common cattle breed in Finland, Ayrshire.
  • The effects of the mutated and maternally imprinted MIMT1 gene in the PEG3 domain on late abortions and stillborn calves. In this research area, we continue to focus on new perspectives.
  • Autosomal recessive gene mutation in chromosome 17 causing PIRM syndrome in homozygous calves (PIRM = ptosis, intellectual disability, retarded growth and mortality). At the moment, the gene mutation is being identified and characterised, in addition to which its effects on transcription and pathology are being analysed. A mutation in the UBE3B gene was found to be the cause of the disorder. It resembles a genetic disorder found in humans, Kaufman oculocerebrofacial syndrome, caused by a mutation in the same gene. This genetic mutation is fairly common in the Ayrshire breed, especially in its Canadian line.
  • A study with the title “Other genetic causes of calf deaths and deformities ” is commencing, headed by Dr Heli Venhoranta.

Genetic susceptibility to pneumonia

We are investigating a gene mutation that makes Ayrshire calves more susceptible to lethal pneumonia. The study has begun and is progressing slowly but surely, financing problems notwithstanding. We are currently focused on four small areas in the set of chromosomes.

Group members

The research is managed by the Reproinnova group, which despite its small size, enjoys active cooperation with many Finnish and international partners.

Cooperation

Important partners within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Other important partners in Finland include the Natural Resources Institute Finland LUKE (Dr Terhi Iso-Touru, Dr Anu Sironen and Dr Nina Schulman), Viking Genetics, Semex Finland, Faba, Figen, Finnpig, ProAgria accounting services, Dr Paula Syrjälä from the Kuopio regional office of the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, and Finnish cattle breeders (cattle and pigs).

International partners include Professor Ruedi Fries, Dr Hubert Pausch and Dr Kristof Flisikowski (Animal Breeding, Technical University of Munich, Germany), Professor Marek Switonski and Dr Christine Wurmser (Agricultural University of Poznan, Poland), Professor Lennart Söderquist (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala), Professor Heriberto Rodriguez (Linköping) and Dr Szabolcs Nagy (Hungary).

Due to extremely meagre funding, the group has come up with a new financing model known as PYOR, or pay your own research. In other words, partners cover most of their expenses by themselves. Costs accrued from SNP genotyping and NGS sequencing are covered by us (with research grants awarded by the Finnish Veterinary Foundation and the Finnish Foundation of Veterinary Research).

INTRODUCTION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH

The study of animal behaviour, or ethology, and animal welfare research. Animal welfare can be defined as the sum of physical and mental experiences. Animal welfare research is focused on animals and their needs, and the research is primarily conducted for the sake of animals. In addition, animal experiences affect the handling of animals, their susceptibility to disease, as well as the output and profitability of production. These, in turn, have an effect on the ethical acceptability of animal products. Animal welfare research employs a wide range of research methods, since a multidisciplinary approach is the only reliable way to assess animal experiences.

  • The research group is led by Anna Valros.
  • The Research Centre for Animal Welfare is a multidisciplinary research community within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. 

CENTRAL RESEARCH AREAS / SUBJECTS / STRATEGIES / GOALS

Read more at the Research Centre for Animal Welfare website:

Introduction and significance of research

The objective of equine reproduction research is to improve equine fertility, as well as to develop artificial insemination techniques and gynaecological treatments. Mare research has focused on the impact of various insemination techniques on the uterus of the mare, its contractions and inflammatory reactions, as well as on fertility. The mobility of sperm in the mare's reproductive system has also been investigated, as well as the effect of the uterine cervix on inflammations after insemination.

Research on stallions has focused on the assessment and development of methods of evaluating sperm, as well as on seminal plasma and the improvement of sperm storage methods.

CENTRAL RESEARCH AREAS / SUBJECTS / STRATEGIES / GOALS

Intrauterine marbles are used to prevent oestrus in mares, but their mechanism of action is unknown. This mechanism is also interesting because the mechanisms that prevent the destruction of the corpus luteum are also unknown at the stage when gestation can be determined. We have used the horses at the Ypäjä facility to study the effect of light plastic marbles  – developed at the Natural Resources Institute Finland LUKE (formerly MTT Agrifood Research Finland)  – on the prevention of oestrus, their potential inflammatory impact on the uterus, and on the release of prostaglandin.

GROUP MEMBERS

  • The research group is led by Professor Emerita Terttu Katila
  • DVM Maria Kareskoski
  • María Montserrat Rivera del Álamo from Barcelona is continuing her investigation of the mechanisms of luteostasis in pregnant and non-pregnant mares, as well as mares with a plastic marble in the uterus.

COOPERATION

The most important domestic partner is LUKE at Ypäjä, in addition to which cooperation is conducted with the Faculty’s Central Laboratory and pathology services.

The most important international partners have been:

  • Universität Leipzig (Germany)
  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain)
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sweden)
  • Technical University of Lisbon (Portugal)
  • Latvian University (Latvia)
  • University of Tartu (Estonia)

INTRODUCTION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH

Plant oestrogens are polyphenol compounds in legumes, some of which are able to bind to the oestrogen receptor. The best know plant oestrogens are the isoflavones present in red clover and soy as well as their various metabolites, such as equol. Medical scientists are studying in depth the health effects of isoflavone-rich food items, mainly soy products.

CENTRAL RESEARCH AREAS / SUBJECTS / STRATEGIES / GOALS

Red clover is the most widely used herbage legume and is also best-suited to Finnish growing conditions. Red clover is an excellent feed for ruminants and is used widely, especially in organic production. The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine has studied the isoflavones found in red clover for several decades. The Faculty’s Central Laboratory has suitable equipment to perform HPLC analysis of various polyphenols in feed, plasma and milk samples. The Central Laboratory can reliably analyse concentrations of daidzein, genistein, formononetin, biochanin A and coumestrol, as well as the concentrations of various metabolites, such as equol and O-DMA.

The research group is led by Eeva Mustonen.

COOPERATION

Central research partners are the group led by Professor Kristiina Wähälä at the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, and the animal science research group led by Professor Aila Vanhatalo at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.

Further information: Red clover isoflavonoids in feed, plasma and milk of ruminants - Eeva Mustonen, doctoral dissertation 2015

INTRODUCTION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH

Ruminant reproduction research (in females) has focused on three lines of study: the use of the GnRH hormone for ovulation induction and the resultant short oestrus cycles, essential factors impacting embryo production and plant oestrogen research.

The original purpose of the project on the use of GnRH for ovulation induction has been to explore the adverse reproductive effects of common hormone treatments for fertility disorders in cattle, and thus to develop and specify treatment recommendations. In situations where the animal’s oestrous symptoms are very weak, the induction of ovulation (GnRH treatment) may occur at a physiologically inopportune time, either during proestrus or even after ovulation.

This project is closely connected with programmes for synchronising oestrus and ovulation that are in common use globally. These programmes induce ovulation in a timed manner with hormone treatment, which enables timed insemination as well. Short oestrus cycles are an unwanted adverse effect of these programmes. The same occurs when the induction of ovulation is poorly timed.  The project has recently focused on investigating the mechanisms of these short oestrus cycles. So far, two doctoral dissertations have been completed in the project.

The plant oestrogen research project has long traditions at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (and earlier at the Helsinki College of Veterinary Medicine). Plant oestrogen has been found to interfere with the reproductive functions in sheep, which may even lead to permanent infertility. In cows, the impact seems to be less severe than in sheep, since no firm evidence on actual effects has been found.

In addition to adverse effects on animal reproductive functions, a new perspective in plant oestrogen research is the significance of oestrogen-active substances in human nutrition. These have been found to have positive effects on human health. For example, they  can reduce the occurrence of certain cancer types, as well as the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Instead of animal subfertility, the research projects have currently been focused on plant oestrogen occurrence in feed and related factors, oestrogen metabolism in ruminants, and secretion into milk. The projects are conducted in cooperation with the discipline of organic chemistry at the Faculty of Science and the discipline of animal science at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry. One doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and two at the Faculty of Science have been completed under the projects in their current form.

In recent years, studying the factors that impact bovine embryo production has been one of the central research lines in ruminant reproduction research. Among other things, this project has studied the effect of certain feeding factors and hormone products used in inducing superovulation on embryo production. A particularly significant research area has been the use of sexed sperm in embryo production. The focus has been on its impact on embryo production and quality, as well as the fertility of embryos produced with sexed sperm. The first doctoral dissertation from the project will soon be completed.

The research group is led by Docent Juhani Taponen.

INTRODUCTION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH

Mastitis, an infection typically caused by bacteria, is the most common and financially most significant disease in dairy cattle farming. Mastitis reduces milk output, weakens milk quality, and thus incurs expenses and losses to both farmers and the dairy industry, which eventually increase consumer costs. In addition, mastitis has an impact on bovine welfare.

In recent decades there have been significant structural changes in dairy farming in Finland and other developed countries. These changes are still ongoing: cattle sizes increase, production intensifies and technological tools, such as automatic milking machines, are becoming increasingly prevalent on farms. These changes pose new challenges to udder healthcare and research, while demanding more investment in mastitis prevention.

Internationally respected research on dairy cattle mastitis has been conducted at the Department of Production Animal Medicine by the research group led by Professor Emerita Satu Pyörälä for several decades. Following Professor Pyörälä’s retirement, mastitis research at the Faculty has been taken over by her successor, Professor Päivi Rajala-Schultz, who has returned to Finland and the University of Helsinki after spending some 20 years at American universities.

CENTRAL RESEARCH AREAS / SUBJECTS / STRATEGIES / GOALS

The main objective of research related to udder health and milk quality conducted at the Faculty is to reduce mastitis occurrence, which has a positive effect not only on animal welfare, but also on business profitability and consumer safety.

Effective prevention of infections requires expertise in pathogen epidemiology and pathogenesis, but when disease occurs, accurate and reliable diagnostics lay the groundwork for targeted treatment. Increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a global concern and a growing threat to both human and animal health. Reducing and rationalising antibiotics use is an important goal that requires, more than anything, investment in the prevention of infections. The efficacy of various treatments and the impact of treatment practices on mastitis occurrence in cow sheds are being investigated. New treatment recommendations will be developed based on the results.

Specific research subjects for the udder health research group include infections caused by the Staphylococcus aureus and coagulase-negative staphylococci bacteria and the diagnostics, epidemiology and virulence factors of these infections, as well as bovine inflammatory responses, udder health in farms with automatic milking and treatment practices related to drying off.

GROUP MEMBERS

Doctoral students:

  • Heidi Hiitiö
  • Johanna Vakkamäki

COOPERATION

Finnish partners include other departments of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Helsinki, Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Natural Resources Institute Finland LUKE, dairies, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

International partners:

  • Estonian University of Life Sciences
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Ghent
  • Hebrew University of Israel
  • Ohio State University

INTRODUCTION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH

Research on infectious diseases in ruminants aims to improve diagnostics, treatment and prognosis through a better understanding of the mechanisms of such diseases, as well as the general welfare of ruminants. One of the research focus areas is infectious diseases in young ruminants, particularly in bovine calves but also in lambs and reindeer fawns.

CENTRAL RESEARCH AREAS / SUBJECTS / STRATEGIES / GOALS

Particular focus areas include infectious respiratory, intestinal, parasitic and hoof diseases. The effect of environmental factors, including various therapeutic and grouping factors, on the occurrence of diseases is under investigation. Studies are also exploring the impact of infections in young animals later in life, and the economy of production. The effects of diseases have been assessed using various production indicators, clinical symptoms, inflammatory responses in animals, as well as haematology and clinical chemistry.

GROUP MEMBERS

The research group is led by Professor Timo Soveri.

Clinical instructors:

Doctoral students:

COOPERATION

Other important researchers and partners include:

  • Professor Toomas Orro (Tartu)
  • Professor Antti Oksanen (Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira)
  • Professor Sinikka Pelkonen (Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira)
  • Professor Satu Sankari (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine)
  • LVM Heidi Härtel (HKScan)
  • LVM Tuomas Herva (Atria Oyj)
  • Animal Health ETT and Valio

Pig research in general

The Department of Production Animal Medicine has, for a long time and with success, conducted research on pig diseases, reproduction and behaviour. Research subjects have been closely related to problems in pig farming. Through research, methods for preventing problems occurring in pigs have been investigated. The objective of this clinical and applied research is to improve pig health and welfare. In recent years, a financial perspective has come to the forefront of research. The pig research group employs clinical and epidemiological methods, as well as methods related to reproduction, stress physiology and behaviour.

Group news and information about ongoing projects, as well as the latest publications, are available on the group’s Facebook page.

Primary research focus

The pig research group is conducting several projects related to pig reproduction, welfare and diseases. In Finland, many contagious pig diseases have been eradicated, while some diseases have never occurred. Therefore, research has focused on topical diseases and problems related to production, such as respiratory infections, hoof problems and tail biting. Other projects focus on factors impacting the quality of beestings, free farrowing and transcriptional analyses of reproductive organ tissue. In addition, the group is investigating environmental effects on pig health and welfare, such as pig stimuli and farrowing surroundings. Research on sow production longevity is a continuation of this focus of effort. Tail biting is the focus of another, international cooperative project where a multifaceted approach is employed. Pig pain and pain relief are under investigation, and research on the evaluation methods of pig welfare at the farm level is being conducted. On the reproductive side, the focus is on early pregnancy and its endocrinology, ovarian function and its control mechanisms, as well as events occurring during farrowing. In addition, alternatives for boar piglet castration are being explored.

The most important partners in Finland include other departments of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Natural Resources Institute Finland LUKE, slaughterhouses, the Association for Finnish Pig Farmers, ProAgria Rural Advisory Services, as well as the feed and pharmaceutical industries.

GROUP MEMBERS

The group employs three professors, one clinical instructor and three members with a doctoral degree, DVM Outi Hälli, DVM Camilla Munsterhjelm and PhD Jinhyeon Yun. Most of the pig researchers are also members of the pig welfare research group. In addition, approximately 3 Licentiate theses in veterinary medicine are completed annually by group members.

Doctoral students:

COOPERATION

International cooperation is conducted with the following organisations:

  • Aarhus University
  • Estonian University of Life Sciences
  • Ghent University
  • INRA France
  • Newcastle University
  • Norwegian School of Veterinary Sciences
  • Scotland’s Rural College
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • University of Sydney
  • USDA Purdue University
  • University of Hannover
  • Wageningen UR

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