Understanding the Human Brain (UHBRAIN), a profile-building project (under the Profi 6 scheme) of the University of Helsinki focused on neuroscience to be carried out in 2021–2026, aims to identify better ways of protecting the brain and new strategies for treating brain diseases through increased understanding of brain functions. By expanding collaboration in brain research, the project aims to alleviate, through research, the individual and societal harm caused by brain diseases.
The Academy of Finland is supporting this profile-building area in neurosciences with approximately €10.3 million in funding. The UHBRAIN project, launched in 2021, is headed by Professor Jari Koistinaho from the Neuroscience Centre.
“In the UHBRAIN project, we are conducting new research of a high standard, with the goal of becoming one of the best European universities involved in neuroscientific research. Multidisciplinary research makes it possible to identify new strategies for the prevention, diagnostics and treatment of brain diseases,” Koistinaho says.
From cellular research to novel innovations
The UHBRAIN project is aimed at investigating, by utilising genetics, human cell models, laboratory animal solutions and brain imaging, how genes and their variants associated with diseases affect the functioning of various brain cell types and their mutual interaction in the human brain.
The researchers involved in the project strive to understand the plasticity of the brain and its significance to brain health. They are also studying brain function in learning that takes place in natural and social interaction as well as during sleep. The goal is to determine, on the basis of research, the effects of genetic and epigenetic risk factors and environmental factors on the functioning of the brain and brain diseases.
The long-term goal is to identify solutions that can be used to increasingly effectively treat or prevent brain diseases. One big question in the treatment of brain diseases is how they could be detected at an earlier stage.
“At the moment, neurological and psychiatric brain diseases generate costs exceeding €10 billion in Finland each year. We will identify potential innovations from the key research findings produced in the project and design an individual assessment and development path as well as an investment plan for each of them in cooperation with the University’s Inno team,” Koistinaho says.
Collaboration across faculty boundaries
Neuroscience is one of the broadest research areas at the University of Helsinki, encompassing a total of 180 research group leaders and research groups focused on the brain or the human mind. Neuroscientific research is conducted at the University of Helsinki, with the help of research in, among other fields, genetics, developmental neurobiology, behavioural sciences, molecular and cellular factors, clinical neuroscience as well as psychology and education.
UHBRAIN brings together brain research at the University and strives to utilise the strengths of the University’s diverse research operations.
“The project boosts high-level research at different stages of researchers’ careers: among others, we are funding research group leaders, postdoctoral researchers and doctoral researchers,” Koistinaho says.
Technical and methodological platforms of the research infrastructure in use, which broadly support the University’s brain specialists, constitute a central part of the project.
Contributing to the UHBRAIN project are the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, the Faculty of Pharmacy, the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Educational Sciences and the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE). UHBRAIN also seeks to collaborate with other profile-building projects of the University.
The goal is to intensify cooperation also with other operators in the field of neuroscience in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area as well as at the domestic and international levels. UHBRAIN is also part of the Helsinki Brain & Mind network operating under Neurocenter Finland. The neuroscience network of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area is composed of the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the Helsinki University Hospital.
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Jari Koistinaho, Professor, Director of Neuroscience Center, Director of Profi 6 UHBRAIN