The Academy of Finland has made its annual funding decisions on new Academy Programmes, Professors, Research Fellows and Postdoctoral Researchers. Sampsa Vanhatalo’s project focuses on the consequences of brain damage in babies.

Every spring, the Academy of Finland’s funding decisions have people keyed up at Finnish universities.

This time around, smiles were brought on the faces of over 90 funding applicants at the University of Helsinki. The Academy granted support for 36 new Academy Projects, 24 Academy Research Fellows, 28 Postdoctoral Researchers, two clinical researchers and Academy Professor Kai Kaila.

Very premature babies

One of the new Academy Projects aims to determine how brain damage in a baby impacts the child’s later development. It is led by Dr Sampsa Vanhatalo, who also heads the Baby Brain Activity research group, BABA at the University of Helsinki.

Vanhatalo is a leading specialist on the brain functions of very premature babiesRecently, Vanhatalo and his group – together with their Swedish and Australian partners – have developed a “brainstorm barometer” to further their work. This new research method allows computers to calculate the brain functions of babies during their first hours of life.

The method is based on the hypothesis that the brainstorms generated by the billions of neurons inside a baby's head are governed by the same rules as other massive natural phenomena – such as earthquakes, forest fires or snow avalanches.

Incomparable with adults

Researchers have found that certain episodes, brainstorms of a kind, occur in the brains of very premature babies and are critical for the maturation of the baby’s brain.

“The brain function of very premature babies is completely different from that of older children or adults, meaning that the currently used methods of EEG interpretation are poorly suited for them,” Vanhatalo explains.  

The biggest risks in the development of a very premature baby are concentrated on the first days of life, when intensive care seeks to find the care balance suitable for each individual child. At this stage it would be vitally important to be able to track the child’s brain function and to identify the babies whose brains are at particular risk.

The laws of nature hold true in the brain

Professor Michael Breakspear’s computational neuroscience research group in Australia began to develop mathematical methods used in geology and basic physics research after it was found that the brainstorms in very premature babies were astonishingly similar to the “crackling noise” that occurs on small scales in weakly magnetised metals and large-scales during earthquakes.

“Of greatest clinical interest was the observation that the results from this barometer correlated significantly with the child’s cognitive development at age two,” Vanhatalo tells.

The EEG instrument created in the study is a collection of sophisticated mathematical functions, combined ingeniously to create a software component for analysing the EEG signal. This component can be added to the software of existing brain monitors.

“This method is the first source of objective data on the messages the brain of a very premature baby may be sending to the doctors taking care of the child during the first hours of life,” Vanhatalo describes.

“In terms of technology, the adoption of the method is no more difficult than downloading new apps onto our smartphones. The interest of EEG monitor manufacturers to engage in product development will be the bottleneck. Luckily the market is very competitive” Vanhatalo points out.

The new research method has been published in Brain Journal.

Funded researchers and projects

Research Council for Biosciences and Environment

The Academy granted funding for 36 projects, eight of them conducted at the University of Helsinki:

Skurnik, Mikael: Bacteriophage
Eskelinen, Eeva-Liisa: Dissecting the mammalian phagophore assembly site
Goldman, Adrian: Ret receptor tyrosine kinase signalling
Hietakangas, Ville: Genetic basis of sugar sensing and tolerance
Jokitalo, Eija: Structure-function relationship of endoplasmic reticulum
Lundell, Taina K: Fungal interactions and lifestyles in wood: alterations in activities, proteome and transcriptome responses in co-cultures and consortia
Minkkinen, Kari: Root-related carbon fluxes – missing pieces in the boreal peatland carbon balance puzzle
Oinonen, Markku: Quantifying the past – environmental anomalies through multi-proxy tree-ring analyses (QUANOMAL)

The Academy granted funding for 11 Research Fellows, six of them from the University of Helsinki:

Pihlatie, Mari: Seasonality in the production, transport and emissions of CH4 from trees in boreal forest ecosystems
Porcar-Castell, Albert: From chlorophyll fluorescence to photosynthesis: upscaling the link (FLUO-SYNTHESIS)
Vähärautio, Anna: Transcriptional regulation in colon cancer at the level of single cells
Domanskyi, Andrii: Neuroprotective microRNAs, trophic factors and ER stress in adult dopaminergic neurons: significance for Parkinson’s disease
PaavilainenVille: Translocational regulation of protein biogenesis
RuokolainenLasse: Dynamics, ecology and emergence of environmental opportunistic pathogens

The Academy granted funding for 16 Postdoctoral Researchers, five of them from the University of Helsinki:

Bos, Nick: Health care in insect societies
DeFaveri, Jaquelin: From genes to fitness: ecological genetics of an extended phenotype
Kainulainen, Veera: Commensal bacteria in the attenuation of intestinal inflammation – isolation of novel strains and molecular mechanisms of their functionality
Mattila, Anniina: Ecology and genomics of toxicity and related life-history traits in the mimetic Heliconius butterfly
Takala, Heikki: Phytochrome-based optogenetic tools

Research Council for Culture and Society

The Academy granted funding for 39 projects, 12 of them conducted at the University of Helsinki:

Ainiala, Terhi T: Personal name systems in Finnic and beyond: reconstruction in the concepts of name giving in cultural layers of prehistory
Hakkarainen, Kai P J: Laboratory of co-inquiry, co-design, co-teaching and co-regulation – Co4 Lab
Heiskanen, Eva-Karin: Intermediaries in the energy transition: the invisible work of creating markets for sustainable energy solutions (Tripod)
Hotulainen, Risto H E: Redefining adolescent learning: a multi-level longitudinal cohort study of adolescent learning, health and wellbeing in educational transitions in Finland
Kuisma, E Markku S: Help business or piracy? Shipwrecks and salvage as early modern entrepreneurship in the 18th century Gulf of Finland
Leino, Jaakko: Temporal movement and manner of motion
Leiwo, Y Martti P: Act of the scribe: transmitting linguistic knowledge and scribal practices in Graeco-Roman Antiquity
Lyytikäinen, Pirjo R: The literary in life: Exploring the boundaries between literature and the everyday
Pesonen, Anu-Katriina: Developmental and experimental perspectives to sleep-regulation in adolescence and in young adulthood
Prozorov, Sergei: Biopolitics and democracy in global governance
Sandu, N Gabriel: Dependence and independence in logic. Foundational issues and philosophical significance
Toom, Auli-M H: Argumentative online inquiry in building students’ knowledge work competences

The Academy granted funding for 20 Research Fellows, seven of them from the University of Helsinki:

Jauhola, K Marjaana: Gendered political violence and urban post-disaster reconstruction
Knuuttila, Tarja Tellervo: Understanding by engineering? Modelling, experimentation and engineering in the emerging field of synthetic biology
Leino-Sandberg, Päivi: The necessary evil – law, power and institutional politics in the European Union
Meskus, Mianna: Reproduction and senescence in the age of biomedical enhancement (RESTEM) (2015–2020!)
Olkkonen, Maria: The emergence of perceptual representations: investigating the neural and computational mechanisms of colour perception in a probabilistic framework
Schröder, Stefan: Historicising the Crusades: strategies of historiographical writing and functions of the past in the Late Middle Ages
Silvanto, Juha: Developing  a neuro-cognitive model of metacognition of working memory

The Academy granted funding for 30 Postdoctoral Researchers, 13 of them from the University of Helsinki:

Ekholm, Laura K: A comparative analysis of the ready-to-wear industry networks in 20th century Helsinki and Gothenburg
Keskiaho, Jesse M J: Annotating Augustine. Reading authoritative texts in the Early Middle Ages (400–900)
Koivisto, Ida I: Regulating visibility – Transparency as an ideal in global administrative law
Kotanen, Riikka J: From a parenting measure to a crime? The legal regulation and control of parental violence toward a child in Finland 1978–2014.
Lampinen, Antti Johannes: The literary tradition of ethnography in the Roman Empire and its reception in Late Antiquity
Leinonen, Taina A: Health trajectories before and after transitions to non-employment
Nyqvist, Sanna K: Laws of literature: appropriation and copyright in 21st century literature
Pöyhönen, H Samuli: Foundations of classification and category-based induction in the social and behavioural sciences
Schönach, Paula M: White infrastructure: an environmental history of ice
Talvitie, Petri: From subjects to citizens: peasants and the struggle for crown farms in Finland 1700–1773
Toppinen, Teemu: Relational expressivism: explaining normative thought and talk
Tuominen-Soini, T Heta-S: Will I learn? Will I succeed? Will I cope? Young people’s diverse motivational trajectories and their relations to educational paths and wellbeing
Uusimäki, Elisa K: Wisdom and paideia: a study of Hellenistic Jewish sages

Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering

The Academy granted funding for 85 projects, four of them conducted at the University of Helsinki:

Hindmarsh, Mark: Searching for phase transitions in the early universe
Juvela, Mika Juhani: From filaments to stars – star formation in the Milky Way
Strachan, Clare: Physical mechanisms of nanoparticle-based drug delivery to cells: combining time-resolved Raman, CARS and SPR analysis for complimentary label-free in situ analysis of nanoparticle/drug-cell interactions
Vilonen, Kari: Hodge theory, representation theory and Langland’s duality

The Academy granted funding for 22 Research Fellows, six of them from the University of Helsinki:

Eskola, Arkke: Formation and decomposition of ketohydroperoxides and hydroperoxy aldehydes
Johansson, Mikael: Understanding and harnessing the quantum chemical origins of Nature’s catalytic power
Kohout, Tomas: Composition of dark asteroids – are asteroid collisions responsible for observed compositional mismatch in the main asteroid belt?
Pirinen, Matti: Multivariate statistical methods in genetics
Puglisi, Simon: Compressed data structures for massive data: algorithms and combinatorics
Salminen, M Johanna: Paleo- to Mesoproterozoic supercontinent cycle and geodynamics

The Academy granted funding for 38 Postdoctoral Researchers, five of them from the University of Helsinki:

Jansson, Ville Bernt Christian: Modelling of arc-plasma-surface interactions
Kauppi, Jukka-Pekka: Neuroscientifically motivated novel decoding methods for multichannel electromyographic and magnetoencephalographic signals
Kulikov, Vadim: Descriptive set theory of topological equivalence relations
Loges, Anselm: Experimental research of indium transport in hydrothermal systems
Malone, Brandon: Searching for optimal models in massive, complex state spaces

Research Council for Health

The Academy granted funding for 41 projects, 12 of them conducted at the University of Helsinki:

Bunker, Alex: Molecular dynamics simulation as a tool for investigating novel formulations for -some-based drug delivery systems
Erkkola, Maijaliisa: DAGIS – improved health and wellbeing in preschools
Laiho, Marikki: RNA polymerase I regulatory functions of a novel small molecule anticancer compound
Lindholm, Dan: Metabolic effects of caspase-2 in cell lipid signalling and in regulation of lipid-induced cell toxicity (lipoapoptosis) – role of cytokines and protein phosphorylation events
Palotie, Aarno: Elucidating the genetics of migraine susceptibility
Partanen, Juha: Differentiation and properties of midbrain GABAergic neurons controlling motivated behaviour and sleep
Puolakkainen, Mirja H: Chlamydia Trachomatis infections – from molecular pathogenesis to improved treatment
Ripatti, Samuli: Human model for genetic variation using phenome-wide screens in human knock-outs
Sajaniemi, Nina Kristiina: DAGIS – improved health and wellbeing in preschools
Siljander, Pia: EV2020 – search for diagnostic biomarkers and tools for drug delivery based on EV-mediated communication
Taira, Tomi P: Role of kainate receptors in developmental plasticity and neuronal synchronization in the hippocampus
Vanhatalo, Sampsa K: Early brain activity: embedding adversities in neurodevelopment (EBA)

The Academy granted funding for six clinical researchers, two of them from the University of Helsinki:

Wartiowaara, Kirmo: Genetic engineering of patient stem cells in inherited diseases
Castrén, Maija: Defects of early differentiation of patient-specific neural progenitors in autism spectrum disorder

The Academy granted funding for ten Research Fellows, five of them from the University of Helsinki:

Ahtiainen, Laura: Imaging cellular mechanisms of epithelial morphogenesis in development and disease
Anttonen, Mikko: Non-invasive biomarkers to facilitate individualized treatment of ovarian and endometrial cancer (HUCH)
Pirinen, Eija: The role of polyamine metabolism and NAD+-dependent enzymes, sirtuins and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerases in diseases characterized by mitochondrial dysfunction
Tojkander, Sari: Cellular forces in breast cancer invasion
Varjosalo, Markku T: Human kinome and cancer

The Academy granted funding to 17 Postdoctoral Researchers, five of them from the University of Helsinki:

Kreutzman, Anna: Restoring NK cell function in cancer patients in vivo with immunomodulatory drugs and antibodies
Lahti, Marius: Prenatal origins of mental disorders: the role of materno-fetal metabolic disturbances
Pihlajamaa, Päivi: Identification of MYC target genes and delineation of their role in oncogenic functions
Tukiainen, Taru: The X chromosome component of human complex traits and sexual dimorphism
Vaahtomeri, Kari: Homeostatic lymphatic capillary network structure and its expansion during inflammation