€1.5 million grant awarded to researchers of mediaeval book culture, nanoplastics and cardiometabolic disease prediction

Jaakko Tahkokallio, Andrea Ganna and Monica Passananti will each receive a Starting Grant from the European Research Council for a five-year term.

Three researchers at the University of Helsinki have been awarded an esteemed grant targeted at early-career researchers by the European Research Council (ERC).

Jaakko Tahkokallio’s research helps understand a mediaeval advancement, which profoundly shaped European society: the commercialisation of the book as well as its transformation into a part of everyday life.

Tahkokallio studies the liturgical books of parish churches and their methods of manufacture in the parishes of the Kingdom of Sweden in 1150–1500, utilising parchment fragments stored in the National Library of Finland and the Swedish National Archives.

The Books of the Medieval Parish Church research project will produce new information on the mediaeval cultural history of the Kingdom of Sweden. At the same time, the project will shed light on the literalisation of Europe, which eventually resulted in the development of printing and the normalisation of literacy.

The goal is to establish a general understanding of the book selection of parish churches and its development in the Kingdom of Sweden in the Middle Ages. Through case studies, knowledge will also be accumulated on how the books held by parish churches were manufactured in practice, as well as where and by whom.

“Understanding the history of the book is particularly important in our time, as we are living in the midst of the greatest transformation of information technology since the late Middle Ages and the invention of printing,” Tahkokallio says.

Tahkokallio conducts his research at the National Library of Finland.

Novel ways to predict cardiometabolic diseases with the help of AI

What if it were possible to predict cardiometabolic diseases before an individual even visits the doctor’s office? Andrea Ganna’s ERC-funded project studies how novel artificial intelligence approaches can be used to integrate nationwide health data and genetic information in order to provide risk assessment of cardiovascular diseases.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Europe, so it is important to identify high-risk individuals at an early stage. However, traditional clinical prediction models have major limitations: they are often used by doctors only when an underlying disease is already suspected, they are not developed on updated nationally representative data, and they require time-consuming clinical measurements.

Ganna’s research project A nationwide artificial intelligence assessment of cardiometabolic risk at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland aims to revolutionise existing approaches to the primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases. In addition to developing new methods, the project includes a clinical study of 2,800 individuals.

The research leverages the latest developments in AI and national Finnish data.

“Finland is one of the few countries in the world where this project can be done. The unique availability of nationwide health registries and large-scale genetic data can open the way to implementing new kinds of disease prediction and consequent public health interventions,” Ganna says.

How nanoplastics affect the environment

Nanoplastics are tiny plastic particles that are produced through the degradation of larger plastic pieces or can enter the environment through the incorrect disposal of waste. But do nanoplastics disrupt natural processes?

Monica Passananti investigates the occurrence of nanoplastics in the environment, their reactivity in surface waters and in the atmosphere, and how their presence may disrupt the natural equilibrium of an ecosystem.

In the project NaPuE – Impact of Nanoplastics Pollution on Aquatic and Atmospheric Environments, Passananti aims to develop a method to sample and analyse nanoplastics in the environment. Until now, the methodologies have been nonexistent.

“Plastic pollution is a global problem, as small pieces of plastic have been found even in the most remote areas of the Earth. However, the problem is underestimated,” Passananti says.

“In the long run, the findings of this research can be used to take informed decisions on the use of plastics at the regulatory level.”

Passananti is affiliated with the University of Turin as well as with the Faculty of Science at the University of Helsinki.


Read more about research funded by the ERC at the University of Helsinki.

Read a release by the European Research Council on Starting Grant recipients in 2020.


ERC Starting Grant

ERC Starting Grants are targeted at promising researchers. The grants are awarded to junior research directors showing promise for assembling a research group and launching independent activities in Europe.