Brain Gain grant for AI research - returnee Professor Olli Kallioniemi takes the Finnish medical research field forward

Professor Olli Kallioniemi has been awarded a €2 500 000 Brain Gain grant for research into artificial intelligence in medicine. The five-year grant will enable Kallioniemi to establish a research group at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) at the University of Helsinki gradually, during 2024-2025.

The Brain Gain is a joint programme of the Finnish Medical Foundation, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, which aims to bring internationally renowned, experienced medical researchers from around the world back to Finland. The first grant has been awarded to Professor Olli Kallioniemi, an internationally renowned medical researcher.  For the past nine years he has worked as the Director of the Science for Life Laboratory in Sweden. 

"Artificial intelligence is changing everything, including medicine"

The Brain Gain programme fills an important gap in the research funding landscape by providing an opportunity for top researchers returning from abroad.

The funding will allow Olli Kallioniemi to explore and apply the potential of AI, building on Finland's strengths in medical research. "Artificial intelligence will revolutionise medicine from biomedical research to public health to diagnostics and treatments," says Professor Olli Kallioniemi.

"This is the big picture that I want to highlight as a researcher. None of us knows yet what will change and how, but it is already certain that many things will change. So now is a critical time to look ahead."

Kallioniemi acknowledges with thanks the foundations for the Brain Gain grant that will enable his return to Finland.

"The utilisation of AI in medical research is a broad and diverse field, and a traditional professorship in medicine at a university does not cover such a job description. The grant will enable me to make the transition and, in time, create a new role."

"Kallioniemi is an excellent example of a top researcher who has achieved international acclaim and whose return to Finland will enrich the Finnish medical research field and thus advance Finnish research," says Katriina Aalto-Setälä, Chair of the Board of the Finnish Medical Foundation."

Finland at the forefront of medical AI research

Kallioniemi believes that Finland has much to learn from its western neighbour, where AI research is well advanced due to recent major funding decisions. 

"In Finland, research is not funded as much as in Sweden, but the advantages include, for example, more accessible research data and registers."

Cooperation with SciLifeLab will continue in the coming years. Kallioniemi will transfer to the University of Helsinki gradually, while continuing to direct the Data-Driven Life Science programme in SciLifeLab over the next year.

The University of Helsinki is well placed to conduct internationally pioneering research in the use of artificial intelligence in medicine, both Kallioniemi and his future supervisor, Professor Jari Koistinaho, Director of the Helsinki Institute of Life Sciences, think.

"We have expertise in both registry studies and AI," says Koistinaho, who is delighted that such an experienced researcher is returning to Finland. 

"We know Olli as a creative and multidisciplinary researcher. I think it's great that he can focus more on research and less on administrative duties."

“Olli's return to FIMM to build a strategy for the use of AI in research and clinical applications lays the foundation for the next phase of molecular medicine at the University of Helsinki. The Brain Gain programme will enable a new kind of data-intensive research pipeline that will address key medical questions by combining exceptional large-scale Finnish molecular health datasets, advanced AI algorithms and Oll's extensive experience and fantastic vision,” says the FIMM Director, Professor Samuli Ripatti