Research

Cooperation with Spiez Laboratory (Switzerland) has continued over 25 years. Methods are developed for analysis of chemical warfare agents and degradation products in various environmental and waste (decontamination) samples and solutions. The results of the research are reportted yearly. Cooperation consists also versatile exchange of information between laboratories.

The development and validation of quantitative methods for ricin toxin and saxitoxin are on research focus of the Institute. The EU project “Establishment of Quality Assurances for the Detection of Biological Toxins of Potential Bioterrorism Risk (EQuATox)” was conducted in 2012–2014 under the 7th Framework Programme for Research. This project has strengthened the capacity of the Institute for analysis of ricin and saxitoxin. The main results of the EQuaTox project were summarized in a review “Biological Toxins of Potential Bioterrorism Risk: Current Status of Detection and Identification Technology” in Trends in Analytical Chemistry (2016). The funding for a new related project was applied in 2016; and this new five-year project “EuroBioTox” will be started in 2017. EuroBioTox, which is a Horizon 2020 project, covers five toxins: saxitoxin, ricin, abrin, botulinum neurotoxin, and staphylococcus enterotoxin B. The project will continue the method development and validation work with biotoxins. The project is coordinated by Robert Koch Institute (RKI). Germany.

Algal toxins, including saxitoxin, have been studied in a three-year project (09/2012–08/2015), which was funded by the Academy of Finland (project 251609). New cyclic imine toxins were found in the Alexandrium ostenfeldii dinoflagellates isolated from the Baltic Sea. The research was conducted in collaboration with the Finnish Environment Institute (Finland), IRTA (Spain), Norwegian Veterinary Institute (Norway), and Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany), and the paper by Harju et al. (Identification of gymnodimine D and presence of gymnodimine variants in the dinoflagellate Alexandrium ostenfeldii from the Baltic Sea) was published in Toxicon in 2016.

A very dense bloom of dinoflagellate A. ostenfeldii was detected in autumn 2014 in Föglö, Åland Archipelago (Finland), and high concentrations of paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins including saxitoxin were measured in the collected field samples at VERIFIN. The project was done in collaboration with the University of Turku (Finland), Finnish Environment Institute (Finland), Åbo Akademi University (Finland), and Linnaeus University (Sweden). The results are presented in the paper by Savela et al. (Quantity of the dinoflagellate sxtA4 gene and cell density correlates with paralytic shellfish toxin production in Alexandrium ostenfeldii blooms), were published in Harmful Algae in 2016, and the main results were presented in the 17th International Conference of Harful Algae in Brazil (ICHA 2016). The final project report was submitted to Academy of Finland in 2016.

The MODUM project sponsored by NATO was aimed at the establishment of the monitoring network observing Chemical Weapons dumpsites in the Baltic Sea, using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV’s) and Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROV’s), and utilizing existing research vessels of partner institutions as launching platforms. Project consisted of the test phase, which will serve choosing best available solutions for the difficult Baltic Sea environment, survey phase, which located actual objects of concern, and monitoring phase, which concentrated on the collection of environmental data close to the objects of concern. Project concentrated on three representative areas chosen during the first phase of the project, and provided a solution for expanding such a network to all areas of concern in the Baltic Sea area. Performed monitoring activities included habitat status evaluation, fish health studies and modeling of possible threats to adjacent areas. Paula Vanninen acted as a co-director of the project, coordinated by Jacek Bełdowski from IO PAS and Martin Söderström from VERIFIN as a consultant on chemical analysis. A book on the project result was published in 2018 [Bełdowski, et al (eds), Towards the Monitoring of Dumped Munitions Threat (MODUM), Springer].

A new four-year Horizon 2020 EU project “Integrated and Adaptive Responses to Toxic Emergences for Rapid Triage” was started in 2015. TOXI-triage addresses the operational, technological, ethical, and societal dimensions of CBRN response and recovery. The approach defines a concept of operations that envisages accelerated delivery of situational awareness. The project is coordinated by Loughborough University (UK), and Paula Vanninen from VERIFIN is the leader of CBRN marker development work package (WP2) of the project. A workshop on Master Class on Operational Specifications for CBRN Crisis Management was organized in Helsinki together with annual M12 meeting in September 12–14, 2016.

DAIMON (Decision Aid on Marine Munitions) is three-year project which started at 2016. The project will create a decision aid system for management of ammunition (both chemical and conventional) dumped in the Baltic Sea area. The aim of the project is develop techniques for impact assessment of dumped munition on ecosystem, maritime activities and human as seafood costumers.

VERIFIN leads the Methods work package.  VERIFIN’s part of the project is develop and optimize methods for analysis of CWA and toxic explosives related chemicals from sediment and pore water samples. VERIFIN will also develop novel analytical methods for chemicals related to CWA in fish and mussel tissues as well as in in vitro metabolisation studies with fish hepatocytes. The results will help to develop and improve methods for ecological risk assessment with regard to the impact of dumped chemical and conventional munitions on exposed biota.

VERIFIN collaborates also with Swedish Marine Monitoring AB. Marine Monitoring has provide VERIFIN aquatic biota samples collected from warfare dumping site in order to study possible contamination with chemical warfare agents. Project started on October 2016 and will continue until February 2017.

NMR laboratory of VERIFIN focuses in the continuous development of NMR sample pretreatment methods and evaluation of emerging NMR technologies applicable in verification analysis. Studies on the application of adaptive spectrum library concept for selected chemicals related to the CWC have been initiated using the results of Boban Anđelković from University of Belgrade, Serbia, who has his six-month OPCW Fellowship Program project at NMR laboratory of VERIFIN in 2015. The work has been continued by Samir Cavalcante from Brazilian Army Technological Center CBRN Defense, who started his OPCW Fellowship Program project at NMR laboratory of VERIFIN in autumn 2016. The research work “Application of comprehensive NMR-based analysis strategy in annotation, isolation and structure elucidation of low molecular weight metabolites of Ricinus communis seeds” conducted by Ivan Vučković from University of Belgrade, Serbia during his OPCW Fellowship Program project at NMR laboratory of VERIFIN in 2013-2014 was published in Phytochemical Analysis.

NMR laboratory of VERIFIN has also a fruitful collaboration with other units of the University of Helsinki. Sini Aalto from Department of Chemistry has initiated her M.Sc. thesis work on the characterization of organoarsenic degradation products of dumped chemical munitions in sediment samples from Baltic sea. Collaboration in the NMR method development with NMR specialist Sami Heikkinen and group of Prof. Ilkka Kilpeläinen from the Department of Chemistry has continued. A research paper “ME-CAGEBIRDr,X-CPMG-HSQMBC. A Phase Sensitive, Multiplicity Edited Long Range HSQC with Absorptive Line Shapes” was published in Journal of Magnetic Resonance. Research collaboration has continued with Professor Kaarina Sihvonen’s research group from the Department of Food and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, on structural characterization of oligopeptides. Preliminary tests on the detection of trace level phosphonates in sea water has also been conducted.

The Biodecon project has evolved to the next step on its way to commercial product. In 2016 this new environmentally friendly method for decontamination of chemical warfare agents (CWA) has started a TUTL (New business from research ideas) project funded by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation. The project lasts for 15 months starting in June 2016 and includes both technical and commercial studies to prepare the commercialization of this Verifin invention. The steering committee of the project included high profile participants from defence forces, civil rescue, Tekes and CBRN industry.

Based on the earlier laboratory studies’ excellent results on Biodecon’s efficiency to decontaminate sarin, VX and sulphur mustard, the scope of the technical studies were to further verify its efficiency in more practical level. Besides product development laboratory testing at Verifin, POC (prove of concept) studies are included in the project in collaboration with Finnish Defence Research Agency (PVTUTKL). Also studies of decontaminating biological warfare agents (BWA) are planned. The toxicity of Biodecon against human cells is to be tested by FICAM (Finnish Centre for Alternative Methods).

Commercial studies included market study, competitor analysis and product specifications. Big part of this work was done by networking with specialists and commercial companies in CBRN field. Biodecon project was presented in various forums like Toxitriage, SLUSH and Seminar on Chemical Weapons—Science and Ethics.

Read more about Biodecon here.