Combining research and patient care advances the treatment of cancers and memory disorders

Lotta Ahveninen wishes to benefit society with her work. That is why she studied in the Master’s Programme in Translational Medicine, which educates solvers of health problems.

Life expectancy has increased, and the Finnish population is ageing. This means that cancer and other chronic diseases and memory disorders are becoming increasingly common. 

At the beginning of her studies, Lotta Ahveninen realised already that she wanted to carry out societally significant work. In spring 2022, she graduated from the Master’s Programme in Translational Medicine.

In the multidisciplinary programme, students learn how the human body functions and how diseases alter its functioning. They become adept at understanding and interpreting basic medical research. After graduating, they can seek therapies for, for example, cancers, memory disorders and metabolic disorders. 

“In translational medicine, knowledge gained through basic research is interpreted for the needs of clinical research, or research where drugs and therapies are trialled in humans. This is known as bench-to-bedside research,” Ahveninen says.

Extensive starting points for understanding the human body and diseases 

Ahveninen completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology in Australia. After moving back to Finland and working for a while, she found that she was still interested in psychology. However, instead of the profession of psychologist she was drawn by science and theory.

In her master’s studies at the University of Helsinki, Ahveninen specialised primarily in psychobiology and neuroscience. The topics examined under these disciplines included memory disorders, depression and anxiety disorder.

The master’s programme encompassed a broad range of medical studies, including anatomy, physiology, genetics, epidemiology and pharmacology. In addition to general courses, she had the chance to follow the work of neurologists at a hospital.

“I learned things I never thought I’d learn with my background in psychology.”

Ahveninen feels she has established a broad foundation for understanding not only the brain and the nervous system but also the functional mechanisms of the body and drugs.

Solutions to health problems 

The Master’s Programme in Translational Medicine produces specialists for many needs by teaching students to, above all, understand and conduct scientific research.  

Many continue to pursue postgraduate studies. Others find employment in, for example, the pharmaceutical industry, private research positions or hospitals to conduct clinical research. For Ahveninen, doctoral studies were a natural choice, as she has always wanted to be an expert, and thus benefit others. 

“I enjoyed writing my master’s thesis and I believe in the research my research group is conducting. I think society genuinely benefits from it.”

In January 2023, six months after completing her master’s degree, Ahveninen began pursuing a doctoral degree in the Doctoral Programme in Human Behaviour and the Music, Ageing and Rehabilitation Team. In her doctoral thesis, she investigates how music can be used to support brain function, mood and life quality in people with memory disorders. 

The associated clinical study has as participants patients with memory disorders, living at home and in nursing homes, who go to traditional music therapy and digital music rehabilitation. 

Continued academic research as a career goal 

So far, there is no cure for memory disorders, which is why ways to support patients’ wellbeing and quality of life are sought through research. 

As many of the current forms of support have been designed for nursing home residents, ways are also needed in future to support those living at home and those unable to, for example, visit outpatient rehabilitation.

“Even though we live longer than before, the extra years we have gained are not healthy. The research I’m conducting is aimed at improving wellbeing specifically during this period.” 

At the moment, Ahveninen thinks she wants to carry on with academic research also after her postgraduate studies. Another career option is the pharmaceutical industry. 

“In terms of continuing at the University, I’m also attracted by learning to teach future experts.” 

Science, research and education are the building blocks of our wellbeing. Investing in them is crucial for our future. Read more about how research and education affect society and get to know our vision for the next Finnish government term 2023–2027.