HiLIFE Grand Challenge call Letters of Intent

23 Letters of Intent were received to the HiLIFE Grand Challenge call, where the deadline was on Tueday. Descriptions of these are below. The participation was very active with 280 Principal Investigators expressing their interest to join. We thank all of you for the interest! 

The 280 participants come from  all UH life science units as well as from several national and international partners. National organizations included Aalto University, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Finnish Meterological Institute, Folkhälsan, Helsinki University Hospital HUS, Karolinska Institute, National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, Natural Resources Institute Finland Luke,  Minerva Foundation, Tampere University of Technology, University of Eastern Finland, and University of Turku). Applicants have international affiliations at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Duke University, Lund University, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, University of Guelph, University of Cambridge, University of Stockholm, and University of Tartu. 

 The HiLIFE Scientific Council evaluates the Letters of Intent at the end of May and makes recommendations for the HiLIFE Board's decision.  Committed funding for the Grand Challenge program is 0,6 M€ with additional support to be included in a Life Science PROFI 5 proposal.

Proposal name Participants Chair
1. Carbon nanostructure based interface for nervous system research and diagnostics 8 PIs Henna Tyynismaa

We introduce novel interdisciplinary approaches to advance the research, diagnostics and drug development for nervous system disorders, which cause immeasurable suffering to patients and an economic burden. We will develop a carbon nanostructure-based platform for parallel electrical recording, transmitter detection and drug delivery in brain tissue and for high-content screening in neuronal cultures. We aim at innovations by wireless manipulation of nervous system and at commercialization of results.

2. Climate smart northern agriculture 19 PIs Kristiina Karhu

In conjunction with the Paris climate conference in December 2015, the French government proposed to increase the soil carbon stock on agricultural land globally by 0.4% per year, which would halt the current growth of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. We will investigate how to achieve this, by understanding and maximising the transfer of carbon to long-term storage through the soil microbial carbon pump, for example by increasing the vegetated period, and use of deep-rooted plants and organic amendments.


3. Data integration for a treatment decision support system in cancer

11 PIs Jing Tang

We aim to develop a cutting-edge medical research program to transform the current disease management to enable personalized medicine in cancer. By applying novel data harmonization and machine learning tools, drug sensitivity and molecular profiles of cancer samples can be leveraged for immediate delivery of the results to the clinic, which may fulfill the unmet needs of key healthcare stakeholders including patients, academia and pharmaceutical industry.

4. Digital Diagnostics for Precision Medicine 16 PIs Johan Lundin

Precision medicine requires accurate, effective and consistent diagnostics to support tailoring of treatment for the individual patient. The proposed Grand Challenge advances digital health and medical artificial intelligence (AI) towards fully automated diagnosis of three major diseases breast cancer, prostate cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases. Tackling this Challenge will enable major steps forward within digital diagnostics and pave way for future AI-supported personalized medicine.

5. Drug resistance in cancer 7 PIs Sampsa Hautaniemi

Resistance to therapeutic regimens in solid cancers is the greatest contributor to cancer mortality and the most urgent unmet challenge in oncology. In particular, ovarian cancer kills over 40,000 women in Europe every year due to lack of effective therapeutic regimens. The overall goal of this Grand Challenge is to gain comprehensive understanding of drug resistance mechanisms at single-cell level and identify effective therapeutic regimens to overcome drug resistance in ovarian cancer.

6. Fundamentals of Life 53 PIs Maria Vartiainen

Fundamental or discovery-based basic research is driven by human curiosity about the workings of nature. Basic science has been found to underlie many, if not most important medical breakthroughs. Our grand challenge is to ensure transformative discoveries of the future by fostering fundamental, curiosity-driven research in HiLIFE.

7.  GLOBEVAC - Sustainable vaccine formulation for global immunization


4 PIs Vincenzo Cerullo

This consortium aims to develop novel pharmaceutical formulations for live-attenuated vaccines that do not hold stringent cold-chain storing requirements to facilitate global vaccination program. We will use cheap/local  product as major component of our formulations. To further increase the sustainability of the experimentation, we will apply sustainable-by-definition microfluidic means (low consumption of reagents, less waste) to both preparing the new formulations and testing the efficacy of the developed vaccines.

8. Health from Genomes 25 PIs Samuli Ripatti

Genomes and detailed recordings of the environment and life style provide a basis for better-targeted and stratified disease prevention and treatment strategies. Building on unique resources of biobanks, large-scale genomic data production, decades of electronic records from comprehensive nationwide health registry data and recordings of the environment in Finland, we are positioned uniquely to pilot, develop, test and implement strategies for precision medicine and provide Health from Genomes.

9. Healthy Aging 23 PIs Juha Saarikangas

Age-related illnesses compromise our ability for healthy aging. The single largest generational cohort in the Western world (baby boomers) is now entering retirement, which places enormous demands on our healthcare system. Our cross-disciplinary consortium will take an integrative approach to tackle a leading cause of age-associated decline: loss of protein function. Our goal is to find ways to boost protein homeostasis in order to promote healthy aging.


10. Helsinki Metabolism Consortium (HiMet): Nutrient control of health and disease.

23 PIs Anu Suomalainen-Wartiovaara

Food choices and defined diets have become an important social theme. Furthermore, changes in food amount and quality over the past 50 years has triggered global health epidemics such as obesity and diabetes. Helsinki Metabolism Consortium (HiMet) addresses the Grand Challenge of how nutrients and diets regulate molecular metabolism in young and old age and affect healthspan. The multidiciplinary HiMet aims to provide evidence-based data to serve as a basis for societal decision making.

11. How to win the war against microbial pathogens 6 PIs Liisa Holm
The spread of antibiotic resistance has its roots in the overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics. We harness cutting-edge bioinformatics and next-generation sequencing (NGS) to revolutionize infection diagnostics enabling early recognition and personalized treatment of hospital acquired infections. Furthermore, microbiological, NGS, and computational methods are developed and used for epidemiological inference and understand associations between microbiome, drug responses, and treatment outcomes    
12. Human Microbiome and Environmental Biodiversity in Immune-Mediated Diseases 3 PIs Mikael Knip

Today immune-mediated diseases such as allergies and autoimmune diseases represent globally the most rapidly growing health problem. In a modern urban environment reduced contacts with natural environment and biodiversity lead to an altered human microbiota, immune dysfunction and eventually to immune-mediated diseases. The challenge is to restore in a safe and effective way sufficient early exposure to natural biodiversity and demonstrate that this will reduce the frequency of immune-mediated diseases.

13. Inhibition of viral mechanisms suppressing antiviral defense in plants 4 PIs Jari Valkonen

This project aims to screen and identify inhibitors of viral enzymes instrumental to infection. The main target is Sweet potato chlorotic stunt virus (SPCSV) because it causes the most severe disease of sweetpotato in co-infection with other viruses by suppressing the plant antiviral RNA silencing system. Alternative control methods are needed in lack of durable resistance to SPCSV in sweetpotato germplasm.

14. Intelligent therapies for cancer (IT-CAN) 22 PIs Kari Alitalo

For effective cancer therapy, emerging precision medications are needed that target the right patient at the right time. In addition to improving patients quality of life, novel cancer therapies should result in cost savings in the health care system. The Intelligent Therapies for Cancer application aims to develop patient-specific tumor models to be used for analysis of patients drug and immunotherapy responses, with the ultimate goal to discover next-generation precision cancer medicines.

15. Quantitative strategies to combat antimicrobial drug resistance 8 PIs Teppo Hiltunen

Infectious diseases used to be a major cause of mortality until effective and inexpensive antimicrobial drugs (especially antibiotics) were discovered. However, the legacy of the use and misuse of these drugs in recent decades has left us with a global public health crisis: resistant pathogens are on the rise, making it harder to treat infections. We argue that helping to solve this global problem should be one of the Grand Challenges of HiLIFE.

16. Safe Food 4 PIs Miia Lindström
Safe and high-quality food is vital for health and secure society. Using state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary research, we will take the major global challenges that jeopardize the safety of foods and integrity of food production and control systems: emerging infectious diseases, exploding antimicrobial resistance, toxicants, dietary diseases and inflamed guts, growing vulnerable population, complexity of food production and delivery systems, food waste, economic pressure, and even illicit action.    
17. Small molecule inducible mRNA effectors -  applications in biology and medicine 4 PIs Jaan-Olle Andressoo
One of the major problems in biomedicine is our inability to control how actively our genes work. Available small molecule drugs control activity of only about 200 gene products, out of over 20.000. I aim to develop a system which overcomes this problem. To achieve this I will build on novel CRISPR-Cas technology. The resulting system can be locally delivered to the site of lesion in the body and genes relevant for treatment are turned on or off with simple small molecule drugs    
18. The Big Data Challenge in Ecology 24 PIs Otso Ovaskainen

Novel technologies have brought new kinds of data on our living environment and plenty of it. Examples include networks of camera-traps, citizen science based observation schemes, and high throughput sequencing of environmental DNA. Adding to this other Big Data collected by e.g. satellites bring revolutionary potential for making sense of our living world. How best to utilize these new data for the good of science and society is one of Grand Challenges for modern life sciences.

19. Towards Precision Medicine in Diabetes and Diabetic Kidney Disease - PreMeDi 10 PIs Sanna Lehtonen
PreMeDi combines multidisciplinary expertise in the fields of medicine, biomedicine and organic chemistry to tackle the grand challenge of finding novel, personalized medications to stop the development and progression of diabetes and its complications, especially diabetic kidney disease.    

20. Understanding biological resilience

29 PIs Rose Thorogood
Our grand challenge is to understand why and how some species are affected negatively by environmental changes while others are able to cope or even thrive. This biological resilience has key implications for ecosystem services, food production and societal well-being across the globe. By bringing together researchers from across the life sciences, our holistic approach will detail pathways for resilience at the level of genomes, individuals, populations, species and ecosystems.    
21. Understanding the brain 56 PIs Eero Castrén
Understanding the brain is the most exciting quest of the humankind. To meet this challenge, multidisciplinary group of neuroscientists at the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and HUS will join forces to establish Helsinki Brain and Mind (HB&M), a cooperation platform that will develop existing and emerging areas of excellence within HB&M and bring them to an internationally leading position. Our focus is to advance models that bridge neuroscience of human and experimental animal brain.    

22. Uterine leiomyomas: from molecular profiling to targeted treatment

5 PIs Lauri Aaltonen

Uterine leiomyomas (UL) have a major impact on womens health and quality of life. ULs are the leading cause for hysterectomy and pose a massive socio-economic burden. Our work has shown that ULs can be classified based on the underlying molecular defects. Aims: 1) revealing the pathogenesis mechanisms of UL driver mutations 2) identifying novel genetic variants for UL development, 3) identifying the determinants of UL with malignant potential, and 4) identifying compounds for targeted therapy.

23.  Viikki BioEcon Cluster: Value Networks from Plant Genomics of Crops, Native Plan 28 PIs Jaakko Kangasjärvi

The aim of the GC is to raise the Bioeconomy Cluster at the Viikki Campus to a unique research and knowledge center among the Finnish Universities and to have a globally recognized profile based on production of biomaterials and end-products to customers through high-impact fundamental research on plants, primary production and management of crop plants and trees. The goal is to be the most recognized research centre in genes-bioproducts-society value-network in Europe by 2030.