More ethical research and help for cancer patients – Professors’ work greatly amplifies the impact of donations

Donations are an important boost for research and teaching. Donated funds make it possible to strengthen important research fields and initiate new activities at the University, including the establishment of new professorships. As many as one-fifth of professorships are funded by donations.

The assistant professorship in indigenous studies at the University of Helsinki is the first of its kind in Finland. Studying in the discipline was already possible earlier, but a donation made by the Kone Foundation enabled the establishment of the professorship in 2016. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen was appointed to the position.

Thanks to the new position, methodologies in the field have started to become more established and the global field more defined.

“My primary goal in the post is to conduct research that is more ethical and to take local views better into consideration. The research field is important, as it brings the knowledge of indigenous peoples into academia,” says Virtanen.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the strengths of indigenous studies, with the focus being not only on indigenous peoples, but also on broader issues: interaction between humans and the environment, art as a tool for learning and politics, legal questions concerning human rights, power structures of western science, research ethics as well as the history and temporal nature of indigenous peoples.

Today, 98% of Finnish children who develop leukaemia recover

Donated funds are significant to cancer research as well.  Acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) is a malignant blood disease and the most common type of cancer in children. In Finland, approximately 50 children get the disease every year. Kim Vettenranta, professor of cell therapy and blood transfusion, has had a key role in the development of treatment for childhood leukaemia in Finland.

Vettenranta’s professorship is funded by donations: the University decided to establish the position with a donation made by the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service for the field of education in medical sciences and pharmacy. Cooperation between his research group (University of Helsinki/Helsinki University Hospital/Finnish Red Cross Blood Service), the New Children’s Hospital of the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa and the Blood Service is close, as the latter is responsible for identifying stem cell transplant donors and related logistics.

According to Professor Vettenranta, these days the prognosis for ALL is relatively good.

“With currently available therapies, approximately 98% of children with the disease are alive and disease-free five years after diagnosis.”

According to Vettenranta, the research on and development of stem cell therapies for leukaemia have been particularly intense in the past few decades. Vettenranta and his research group have contributed to developing children's stem cell transplants for leukaemia to their current level.

“Together with my group, I have taken part in developing stem cell therapies specifically for child patients. Among other things, we have investigated the regulation of immune system recovery, its monitoring after bone marrow transplantation and the treatment of graft-versus-host reaction.”

Professor of practice acting as a bridge between the University and professional life

Donations help also strengthen the connection between university and professional life. A holder of a doctoral degree with professional merits and experience of particular significance from outside the academic world may be appointed to the position of professor of practice. In 2017 Tuomas Lehtinen was appointed as professor of practice in legal practice law. The professorship was made possible by donations from the Finnish Bar Association Foundation and the Finnish Bar Association.

“I intend to serve as a bridge between attorneys-at-law and the University. I wish to make legal practice law and the legal questions related to the work of attorneys-at-law better known and part of the education provided by the University’s Faculty of Law,” says Lehtinen.

During his five-year term in the position, Lehtinen hopes to inspire students to explore the world of legal practice law.

Both attorneys-at-law and the University benefit from the position of professor of practice; both parties feel they have an opportunity to demonstrate how the world works from their viewpoint.

“I think work itself should be made a more central topic of research at the University,” Lehtinen suggests. That precisely is the core of the position: professional life is considered worthy of scientific investigation. For this, law provides an exceptional opportunity, as the field is increasingly asking how things should be, instead of what they absolutely are.

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