ERC Advanced Grants at the University of Helsinki

Every fourth woman suffers from uterine leiomyomas (ULs) – benign tumours of the uterine smooth muscle wall – at some point in premenopausal life.

Professor Lauri Aaltonen group's breakthrough work has shed important new light on the biology and genesis of ULs. They hypothesize that ULs can emerge through several distinct mechanisms and anticipate that each mechanism contributes to somewhat different tumour biology, clinicopathological features, and response to treatment.

Project name and duration:

Towards prevention, early diagnosis, and noninvasive treatment of uterine leiomyomas through molecular classification, 2016–2021
Next Generation Genetics of Cancer Predisposition, 2011–2016

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Breakthrough in genetic research of uterine muscle fibroids | University of Helsinki

Professor Kari Alitalo's group studies the development and properties of meningeal lymphatics and how they are sustained during aging. Then they analyse the clearance of macromolecules and protein aggregates in Alzheimer’s disease in mice that lack the newly discovered meningeal lymphatic drainage system.

Alitalo's group studies if growth factor-mediated expansion of lymphatic vessels alleviates the parenchymal accumulation of neurotoxic amyloid beta and pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease and brain damage after traumatic brain injury. Then they analyse the role of lymphangiogenic growth factors and lymphatic vessels in brain solute clearance, immune cell trafficking and in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis.

Project name and duration:

Translational implications of the discovery of brain-draining lymphatics, 2017–2022
New Bio­lo­gical Func­tions And The­ra­peu­tic Po­ten­tial Of Vascu­lar En­dot­he­lial Growth Fac­tors, 2011–2016

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Cancer Research: Breaking Barriers | University of Helsinki

The Mediterranean, a key socio-cultural, economic and political crossroads, has shifted its relative position recently, with profound effects for relations between the peoples associated with its diverse parts. Professor Sarah Green's Crosslocations is a groundbreaking theoretical approach that goes beyond current borders research to analyse the significance of the changes in relations between places and peoples that this involves.

Project name and duration:

Cross­loca­tions in the Me­di­ter­ra­nean: Ret­hin­king the Socio-Cul­tu­ral Dy­na­mics of Re­la­ti­ve Po­si­tio­ning, 2016–2021

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Professor Volker Heyd maps out how the Yamnaya culture, also known as the Pit Grave culture, migrated from the Eurasian steppes to prehistoric south-eastern Europe approximately 3,000 years BCE. Most of the burial mounds typical of the Yamnaya culture have already been destroyed, but new techniques enable their identification and study.

The effects of the Yamnaya migration to Europe five thousand years ago can still be seen in the populations of the region – in their appearance, culture, social organisation, ideology and language. These thousand-year-old factors may explain why Europeans are amongst the tallest people in the world and why our current languages are prevalent.

Heyd's project is using multidisciplinary methods to solve the mystery. Archaeologists are collaborating with scholars of biological and environmental sciences, using the methods of funerary archaeology, landscape archaeology and remote sensing that are at the group's disposal. From the field of biological sciences, the group is making use of genetics/DNA analysis, biological anthropology and biogeochemistry. As for environmental sciences, their contribution is in the form of palaeoclimatology, which studies climate before modern meteorological observations, and soil formation processes.

Project name and duration

The Yamnaya Impact on Prehistoric Europe, 2019–2023

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Professor of International Law Jan Klabbers studies intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the International Maritime Organzation. Klabbers is especially interested in how the IGOs' activities engage and compete with actors in the private sector.

With his ERC funding, Klabbers and his research group are studying how widespread the private sector's involvement in IGO activities is, and how IGO law responds to private involvement.

Klabbers' research project PRIVIGO aims at developing legislation relating to intergovernmental organisations. They are building solid theoretical foundations that take into account the huge impact of IGOs on our everyday lives.

Pro­ject name and duration

Intergovernmental Organizations between Mission and Market: International Institutional Law and the Private Sector - PRIVIGO, 2020–2024.

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Professor Markku Kulmala focuses on one of the most critical atmospheric processes relevant to global climate and air quality: the first steps of atmospheric aerosol particle formation and growth. The project will concentrate on the currently lacking environmentally-specific knowledge about the interacting, non-linear, physical and chemical atmospheric processes associated with nano-scale gas-to-particle conversion (GTP).

Kulmala has made significant scientific breakthroughs in his research about atmospheric aerosol particles, and has been the most cited researcher in his field for several years.

Project name and duration

Atmospheric Gas-to-Particle conversion, 2017–2022.
Atmospheric nucleation: from molecular to global scale, 2009–2013.

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Akateemikko Markku Kulmala

Professor Antti Kupiainen's group develops new tools for a mathematical analysis of out of equilibrium systems. The main goal is a rigorous proof of Fourier's law for a Hamiltonian dynamical system.

In addition, Kupiainen's group plans to study various fundamental problems related to transport in such systems. They will consider extended dynamical systems consisting of a large number (possibly infinite) of subsystems that are coupled to each other.

Project name and duration

Quantum Fields and Probability 2017–2022.
Mathematical Physics of Out-of-Equilibrium Systems, 2009–2014.

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Professor of Russian Studies Judith Pallot examines specific features of the Russian system of punishment inherited from the Soviet period, which shape how prisoners are managed in the correctional facilities of the Russian Federation at the present time, and how the features affect experiences of imprisonment in different ethnic minorities.

Prisons are widely thought to be sites of Islamic radicalization. Pallot's research will use case studies to analyse the experiences of ethnic minority prisoners over time and through space. These provisionally will be Chechens, Tartars, Ukrainians, Estonians, migrant Tadjik workers and Roma, and the country case studies are the Russian Federation, Georgia and Romania.

Pallot’s team will consist of researchers in Russia with whom she has worked in the past and new post-doctoral scholars who will be based in the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki. She finds basing her project at the Aleksanteri Institute ideal for undertaking work on Russia and the other post-Soviet states, as "it is well placed geographically for joint workshops with Russian colleagues, and more importantly, it is in a dominant position in Europe in the field of Russian and East European studies".

Project name and duration

Gulag Echoes in the “multicultural prison”: historical and geographical influences on the identity and politics of ethnic minority prisoners in the communist successor states of Russia Europe, 2018–2023

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Professor of Philosophy Jan von Plato studies the shorthand notes, which the Princeton logician Kurt Gödel left behind. These notes, which consist of thousands of pages, were written in an archaic German shorthand.

In his work, Gödel introduced concepts such as formal syntax and algorithmic computability, which were crucial in the invention of computers and the birth of the information society. Von Plato hopes that his ERC project will lead to a deeper understanding of Gödel's central discoveries such as the famous incompleteness theorem of formal systems of mathematics.

Project name and duration

The Gödel Enigma: Unveiling a Hidden Logical Heritage, 2018–2023.

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Professor Craig Primmer's research group studies the genome of fish. Primmer focuses especially on how fish adapt to local circumstances and the causes and consequences of variation in reproduction and survival. Studying fish that have adapted to northern cold waters, Primmer's group hopes to find out if these species can survive climate change.

Primmer's research revolves around the Atlantic salmon. As in many species, age at maturity in Atlantic salmon is tightly linked with size at maturity and thus represents a classic evolutionary trade-off: later maturing individuals spend more time at sea before returning to freshwater to spawn and have higher reproductive success due to their larger size but also have a higher risk of dying prior to first reproduction.

In maturation, professor Primmer's group characterizes age at maturity candidate gene functions and allelic effects on phenotypes, elucidates fitness effects of these phenotypes and GxE interactions, and develops a mechanistic model for the sex-dependent dominance and validate intra-locus sexual conflict resolution.

Project name and duration

Age at maturity in Atlantic salmon: molecular and ecological dissection of an adaptive trait, 2017–2022.

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Professor Hanna Vehkamäki seeks to achieve a comprehensive understanding of atmospheric nanocluster and ice crystal formation based on fundamental physico-chemical principles.

Atmospheric aerosol particles play a key role in regulating the climate. Particulate matter is responsible for most of the 7 million deaths per year attributed to air pollution.

Project name and duration

Advanced Grant: Si­mu­la­ting Non-Equi­li­brium Dy­na­mics of At­mosp­he­ric Mul­ticom­po­nent Clus­ters, 2016–2021.
Role of Molecular Clusters in Atmospheric Particle Formation, 2011–2016.

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Nucleation — Why are there nanoparticles in the air?

Kai Kaila: Ar­gi­ni­ne Va­sopres­sin and Ion Trans­por­ters in the Mo­du­la­tion of Brain Exci­ta­bi­li­ty Du­ring Birth and Birth Asp­hyxia Seizu­res, 2014–2019

A transient period of asphyxia in the newborn is an obligatory part of normal parturition. A more prolonged disturbance in cerebral blood supply is a major cause of neonatal seizures. Professor Kai Kaila group's recent landmark work on a rat model of birth asphyxia showed that asphyxia is followed by brain alkalosis, which triggers seizures.

Read more on the Laboratory of Neurobiology research group website!

Vladislav Verkhusha: Near-infrared fluorescent probes based on bacterial phytochromes for in vivo imaging, 2014–2019

Professor Vladislav Verkhusha is the leading expert in the development of fluorescent proteins; he develops red fluorescent proteins and proteins whose fluorescence can be switched on or off in a controlled manner. These have many applications.

Read more on the Optobiology research group website!

Eero Castrén: Induction of juvenile-like plasticity in the adult brain, 2013–2018

Neuronal networks are tuned to optimally represent external and internal milieu through neuronal plasticity during critical periods of juvenile life. After the closure of the critical periods, plasticity is considered to be much more limited. In a series of landmark studies, professor Eero Castrén's group has shown that critical period-like plasticity can be reactivated in the adult mammalian brain by pharmacological treatment with the antidepressant fluoxetine. These ground-breaking studies establish a new principle, induced juvenile-like plasticity (iPlasticity) and define a new class of drugs, iPlastic drugs.

Karri Muinonen: Scattering and absorption of electromagnetic waves in particulate media, 2013–2018

The canonical problem of electromagnetic scattering in complex particulate media is solved numerically using multiple-scattering theory based on the Maxwell equations, with an exact treatment of the leading ladder and cyclical interaction diagrams. The numerical methods are validated using a nanotechnology-based scattering experiment that, simultaneously with the measurement of the full scattering matrix at arbitrary illumination and observation geometries, allows for a detailed physical characterization of the scattering object using Atomic Force Microscopy. Professor Karri Muinonen group's numerical and experimental methods will have immediate applications in Earth observation, including remote sensing of the atmosphere, land, and sea.

Anu Wartiowaara: Metabolic consequences of mitochondrial dysfunction, 2011–2016

Professor Anu Wartiovaara's project aims to clarify mitochondrial contribution to obesity and thinness, using carefully characterized mitochondrial disease and obese patient materials, and genetically modified disease models. Manifestations of mitochondrial respiratory chain (RC) defects range from infantile multisystem disorders to adult-onset myopathies or neurodegeneration, and even ageing-related wasting.

Read more on professor Wartiovaara's research group website!

Bo Stråth: Between Restoration and Revolution, National Constitutions and Global Law: an Alternative View on the European Century 1815–1914, 2009–2014

The point of departure of this project is that a good part of the present deficit of legitimacy of European institutions emerges from a deeply ahistoric view of Europe s past. Professor Bo Stråth's realistic outline of Europe's past focuses on the century 1815–1914, which was the pre-war historical ground on which the peace of 1945 and our present conception of Europe were built. It testifies at least as much to conflict and fragility as to progress. The century is traversed by a series of tensions in the political, cultural, social, economic and legal fields and struggles between the protagonists of different conceptions of European modernity.

Päivi Peltomäki: Epigenome and Cancer Susceptibility, 2009–2014

Early detection is crucial for the outcome of most cancers. Prevention of cancer development is even more desirable. To facilitate these ultimate goals professor Päivi Peltomäki's group aims to construct a comprehensive view of the stepwise process through which common human cancers, such as colorectal cancer, arise. In particular, they aim to identify novel mechanisms of cancer susceptibility by focusing on the epigenome, whose alterations may underlie several phenomena related to chronic adult-onset disease that are not explained by genetics alone.

Ilkka Hanski: Ecological, molecular, and evolutionary spatial dynamics, 2009–2013

The study of wild populations will benefit of increasing integration of ecological, molecular, genetic, and evolutionary approaches. The Glanville fritillary butterfly has a classic metapopulation in a network of 4,000 habitat patches in the Åland Islands, Finland, within an area of 50 by 70 km, across which population surveys have been conducted since 1993. Taking advantage of the opportunity to sample a few larvae from full-sib groups of gregarious larvae in hundreds of local populations, professor Ilkka Hanski's project involved large-scale phenotyping and genotyping of individuals across the large metapopulation. The aim was to advance our general understanding of the genetic basis of variation in individual performance and life-time reproductive success (fitness), and the role of ongoing natural selection in population dynamics of species living in fragmented landscapes.