The multidisclipinary viral zoonoses research group at University of Helsinki targets emerging and re-emerging infections – particularly viral zoonoses, including arboviruses. We study their evolution, epidemiology, diagnostics, ecology and host-virus interactions from molecular to population level. We embrace the OneHealth concept and the vision that apart from current palette of diseases and its changes, mankind is increasingly confronting new emerging infections due to environmental changes, globalization – yet with new technologies to study, diagnose and battle them.
We have projects involving e.g. alphaviruses, flaviviruses (such as tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), zika and dengue viruses), arenaviruses and hantaviruses. As examples of highlights, we provided crucial evidence showing that congenital infection of zika virus causes fetal brain damage (Driggers et al NEJM 2016) and have shown that apart from “normal” European sheep ticks (Ixodes ricinus) and European TBE, also “taiga ticks” (Ixodes persulcatus) and the Siberian TBE virus occur in Finland and change carrier vector and geographical distribution.
The group is led by professor Olli Vapalahti and is affiliated to Faculties of both Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, as well as HUSLAB (Helsinki University Hospital Laboratory). We are utilizing next generation sequencing and metagenomics to develop virus diagnostics and discovery, and run research with special pathogens at Biosafety level 3 laboratories. In June 2015 Olli Vapalahti research group organized an international symposium of “Emerging Diseases” in Hanasaari funded by Juselius Foundation.
The research is funded by e.g. Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, Helsinki University Central Hospital Funds, Academy of Finland and Jusélius Foundation. Jointly with University of Nairobi's KAVI institute and other collaborators we study emerging infections in Kenya utilizing UH Taita Research Station. The group is extended to a research unit with important affiliates and younger group leaders.