Monday, November 5, 2018

New Mathematical Model Predicts Respiratory Viral Infection Symptoms Severity


​A 3D graphical representation of a generic influenza virion’s ultrastructure.

​Among the most common reasons in developed countries for seeking medical attention are acute respiratory viral infections, such as influenza and seasonal flu. However, response to viral infections varies considerably across population. Some individuals may show no major outward symptoms, while others express severe symptoms in response to the same virus. Symptomatic individuals will become a contagious source for spreading the virus, which is a critical health risk especially for individuals with suppressed or weak immune system. Identifying biological predictive factors for symptoms severity would have substantial implications to public health.

To identify predictive markers of individuals susceptible to getting severe symptoms from acute respiratory viral infection, the Respiratory Viral DREAM Challenge was designed as a crowd-sourced effort to bring together a community of international researchers. In total, 39 teams and 435 individuals without team from all over the world, including Finland, United States, Japan and United Kingdom, participated in the intense competition for 10 months. The team from the University of Turku was the only top-performing team that achieved nominal significance in the Challenge. By this achievement the team demonstrated that predictive models of symptoms following viral exposure can be built using pre-exposure gene expression.

After the competition, multiple teams joined forces to collaborate in the analysis of all the submitted models, their methodologies, and the selected biomarkers to find commonalities between them. Although there was little overlap between the genes selected in the different models, a key finding was their enrichment in the Heme metabolism pathway. The results led to an article in Nature Communications journal which was published on October 24th 2018.

– Participating in such crowdsourced efforts, like the international DREAM Challenge competitions, provides an excellent opportunity for enthusiastic collaboration between top universities and researchers in the world. This project is a great example of how new knowledge can be gained from existing data and how open and freely accessible data can maximise its use for patient benefits. The ultimate beneficiary of such efforts is the society, says Research Director Laura Elo from Turku Centre for Biotechnology, leader of the top-performing University of Turku team in the Challenge.

Advanced computational and mathematical methods together with increased computing capacity and increasing amounts of data are making rapid advancements in science and medicine possible.

– We are now living in an era that big data from biological sources are being generated in an astronomical pace. These can be analysed with the current computational capabilities and further utilised in personalised medicine, says Mehrad Mahmoudian, Doctoral Candidate from Turku Centre for Biotechnology, who worked as a key member of the team in the project.

>> The results were published in Nature Communications journal

>> Original article

Monday, September 10, 2018

Johanna Ivaska Appointed Head and Vice President of Oncology Research in Orion Corporation


In the role of Head and Vice President of Oncology Research in Orion R&D, Johanna Ivaska will have all oncology discovery directly reporting to her. In addition, she will act as the Director of Orion Research Center for Biotechnology and Translational Research in Turku.

Ivaska is an internationally distinguished researcher specialising in the role of cellular changes in metastatic development in cancer. The innovative approach of her research will provide significant new data on the migration and traffic of cancer cells in tissue. Ivaska’s research is anticipated to lead to scientific breakthroughs in biomedicine, a very topical field of research today.

– I warmly welcome Johanna Ivaska to the Orion Oncology team. Johanna Ivaska has an outstanding career in science, and she is a widely recognised scholar internationally. In particular, she has an exceptional ability to be creative in her science, which skill is highly appreciated when developing novel drugs for serious diseases, such as cancer. Oncology is one of Orion’s main focus areas in the pharmaceutical  Research and Development. Johanna Ivaska will have an important role in shaping the aims and structure of Orion Oncology. We feel privileged in hiring Johanna Ivaska, Professor Heikki Joensuu, R&D Global Head, Therapy Area Oncology in Orion says delightedly.

– I am excited to extend the co-operation with Orion Corporation. As a scientist, I have been passionately tackling biomedical research questions for over 20 years. Every new drug is based on curiosity driven fundamental research. However, drug development requires resources and know-how beyond academia. With my new appointment, I will have the opportunity to contribute to the other end of the process, the pharmacological therapy, Ivaska says.

Drug development and diagnostics have also been identified as the particular strengths of the research conducted at the University of Turku. However, further developing the findings in basic research for finished drugs often requires the resources of companies.

– The University of Turku has identified drug development and diagnostics as its particular strengths when it comes to research. While the fundamental discoveries that lead to new drugs are often made at universities, the further development of innovations always requires co-operation with private companies. For the University of Turku, Professor Ivaska’s partial transfer to Orion will be a model for developing co-operation with the private sector in the future, Kalervo Väänänen, Rector of  the University of Turku states.

The co-operation between university research and drug industry has been developed especially within the BioCity Turku organisation.

– Founded nearly 30 years ago, BioCity Turku has always sought to systematically activate co-operation between researchers in the life sciences sector and the private sector. Professor Ivaska is one of Finland’s most influential oncology biologists and her work as a bridge builder between academia and private companies will promote the development of discoveries made in basic research into registered drugs, Jyrki Heino, Professor, Scientific Director of BioCity Turku says.

Ivaska Also Awarded with This Year’s Medix Prize

Twice during her career, Ivaska has received research funding awarded by European Research Council (ERC), which is among the most notable grants in the world and highly competed. Ivaska and her academic research team are also the recipients of many scientific awards including the most recent Medix Prize 2018 for the best scientific publication in medicine in Finland, and in 2017, the prestigious A. I. Virtanen Prize for internationally recognised excellence in research.

Most recently, Ivaska and her research group were awarded with Medix Prize of €20,000 for research exploring cell invasion and cancer. Medix Prize of the Minerva Foundation is a notable annual recognition for Finnish medical research of internationally high quality. In a way, it is the Finnish national championships of biomedicine.

In the research, a protein that prevents the spreading of cancer was found. The SHANK protein in question limits the activity of cancer cells and prevents them from invading tissues. Correspondingly, gene mutations in this protein weaken the effect of preventing invasion. The same article brought the group also the Elias Tillandz Prize of 2018.

The international, multidisciplinary research group in the BioCity lobby in Turku From left: PhD Maria Georgiadou, PhD Guillaume Jacquemet, PhD Ilkka Paatero, Doctoral Candidate Pranshu Sahgal, PhD Hussein Al-Akhrass, Academy Professor Johanna Ivaska, PhD Paulina Moreno-Layseca, PhD James Conway, Research Technician Jenni Siivonen, PhD Emilia Peuhu, Doctoral Candidate Johanna Lilja, PhD Hellyeh Hamidi, and Research Technician Petra Laasola. Photo: Martti Ahlstén.


The findings of the research group are significant for understanding both the spreading of cancer and the disorders of nerve cells related to autism.

– SHANK has been known to have a link with autism. A mutation in the SHANK protein or the missing of the protein predisposes the patient to severe autism, but the mechanism of how this happens has not been previously known. That was discovered in our research, too, Johanna Ivaska says.

However, there is no such link between cancer and autism that having autism leads to getting cancer or vice versa. The research group continues exploring the mechanisms of cancer and autism.

> The awarded article “SHANK proteins limit integrin activation by directly interacting with Rap1 and R-Ras” was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology

Original article was published on the University of Turku website 9/10/2018 10:55 AM

Read the original article

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Professor John Eriksson was awarded with the title of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland


Professor John Eriksson was awarded with the title of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland by the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, in conjunction with the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Åbo Akademi University.

More information about the Order of the White Rose

Friday, September 7, 2018

Professor Cecilia Sahlgren was awarded with the title of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland


Professor Cecilia Sahlgren was awarded with the title of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland by the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, in conjunction with the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Åbo Akademi University.

More information about the Order of the White Rose

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Laura Elo and TCB on the pages of Tekniikan maailma (The World of Technology)


Laura Elo’s research presented on the pages of Tekniikan maailma

The research at our Centre gets lots of visibility. However, there are certain types of journals that we have difficulties reaching into, although they could provide positive visibility. One of these journals is clearly Tekniikan maailma (literally translated The World of Technology). To the best of our knowledge this journal for hard-core car and gadget enthusiasts has never published a word about TCB. However, now this shortcoming has been corrected, as Laura’s research was featured in article in the last July issue of the journal (No. 14/2018; text by Saga Wiklund, photo Hanna Oksanen/UTU Media Bank).

We got special permission from the journal to publish a free link to the article (in Finnish)

The beginning of article states “Better and more efficient cures through modeling – The aim of computational medicine is to improve diagnosis, prediction, and cures of complicated diseases” (the rest we hope that you can figure out with Google translate). Warm congratulations to Laura and her team for reaching over this rather rare treshold and for the other recent successes!

Friday, July 20, 2018

International collaboration between Finnish and U.S. researchers identify new rules for cancer therapies


More on University of Turku news page in Finnish.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Finnish Scientists Analysed the Proteome of T Helper 17 Cells


​A network diagram of the transcription factors identified from Th17 cell proteome

​Proteins are one of the major biomolecules that form the functional and structural entity of a living cell. Mass spectrometry-based quantitative proteomics can be used to determine the set of proteins expressed by a cell, tissue, or organism at a certain time.

The immune system defends the body against harmful pathogens and tumours, and also provides self-tolerance. T helper cells are major components of the adaptive system, and they play critical roles in controlling immune reactions.

During her postdoctoral study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA, Dr. Zhi Chen started working on Th17 cells, a subset of helper T cells with an important role in autoimmune inflammation.

The label-free quantitative proteomics technology has been established at the Turku Centre for Biotechnology. Using this technology, Chen’s research team in collaboration with computational scientists from Aalto University and scientists from the University of Turku, Åbo Akademi University and the University of Maryland generated a resource that was used to identify over 4000 proteins expressed in Th17 and iTreg cells.

– We also combined analysis of proteome and gene expression data and discovered protein expression changes that were not associated with changes at the transcriptional level, says Chen.

– These identified proteins can potentially be targeted in immunotherapy, especially in disease conditions like cancer and autoimmunity, believes Chen.

The research is funded by grants from Academy of Finland and TEKES.

The study is published in the journal PLoS Biology.

Link to press release

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Academy of Finland grant to John Eriksson


John Eriksson receives a grant from Academy of Finland for the project: “Integrating tissue homeostasis and regeneration – Cytoskeletal intermediate filaments as a signaling hub.

Intermediate filaments (IFs) have received significant attention due to the broad range of diseases they have been shown to be associated with. The IF-related diseases are associated with compromised tissue homeostasis as well as failing tissue regeneration and healing.

The overriding hypothesis of the proposal is that IF-mediated signaling maintains tissue integrity and homeostasis. The proposed novel concept is that tissue-integrating signaling is linked to a major cytoskeletal system, which in turn can take cues from other signaling pathways, cell shape, migration, and biomechanics. The project aims to uncover how signal processing is managed in concert with tissue organization and biomechanics.

The molecular knowledge gained by this study provides great potential for diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic approaches to tackle several relevant disease conditions, including regular and chronic wounds, internal injuries, regeneration or degeneration, different fibrotic diseases, and cancer.

The project links to the strong community of cytoskeletal and adhesion research in Turku and both gains strength from and strengthens this community.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Laura Elo received For Women in Science Award


Adjunct Professor Laura Elo received the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award Finland 2018. Laura Elo works as Research Director in Bioinformatics and Group Leader in Computational Biomedicine at Turku Centre for Biotechnology.
The international L’Oreal -UNESCO For Women in Science Award was initiated in 1998 to promote equality in science. In Finland, the Award was launched in 2006.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Lea Sistonen elected as new EMBO member


Lea Sistonen, who is Professor of Cellular and Molecular Biology at Åbo Akademi University and an Affiliated Group Leader at Centre for Biotechnology, has been elected as a new member of the prestigious life science organization EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization). As defined by the organization, election to EMBO Membership is recognition of research excellence and the outstanding achievements made by a life scientist.

She joins the other two previously elected EMBO members from Turku, Professors Sirpa Jalkanen and Johanna Ivaska.