Spearhead projects

The University of Eastern Finland selected 13 spearhead projects in research as part of the implementation plan of the university's strategy for the years 2010–2015. The university provides a total of 15 million euros of funding for the spearhead projects in 2011–2015.

In the university's strategy for the years 2010–2015, the areas of expertise are Forests and the Environment, Health and Well-being, and New Technologies and Materials. Each of the areas of expertise has 4–5 spearhead projects and they involve extensive cooperation networks.

The projects for which funding is provided involve approximately 100 professors and research directors. The spearhead projects are listed below by area of expertise.

Forests and the Environment

    • Aerosols and Climate: Reduction of Uncertainty of the Models
    • Changing Climate and Biological Interactions Related to Forests, CABI
    • Multi-scale Geospatial Analysis of Forest Ecosystems
    • Sustainable Bioenergy, Climate Change and Health

Health and Well-being

    • Cancer Centre of Eastern Finland: Molecular Mechanisms of Cancer
    • Genetics and Nutrigenomics of Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance Related Traits, GENENUTRI
    • Novel Endovascular Therapies in Post-genomic Area
    • Translational Identification of Biomarkers and Therapeutic Strategies for Neurodegenerative Diseases, UEF-BRAIN

New Technologies and Materials

    • Interdisciplinary, Translational Research for Improved Diagnosis and Treatment of Musculoskeletal Diseases - Musculoskeletal Research Consortium, MSRC
    • Novel Materials, Technologies and Drug Molecules Based on Phosphorus and/or Nitrogen Compounds
    • Novel Nanostructured Materials for Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Environmental Applications, NAMBER
    • Novel Stem Cell Technologies and Materials for Translational Research in Molecular Medicine, UEF-STEM
    • Tailored Materials for New Technologies

Forests and the Environment

Aerosols and Climate: Reduction of Uncertainty of the Models

The research consortium is led by Professor Ari Laaksonen.
The objective of the project is to advance our understanding of the role of aerosols in the climate change observed during the 20th century by applying novel inversion methods to climate model simulations, and to produce climate projections for the 21st century that have reduced aerosol uncertainty. Existing temperature records show warming in the early 20th century, followed by a period of cooling starting from 1940 and again a period of strong heating from 1975 on. This behaviour has been attributed to an increase in the greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions, and to natural variability of climate. Making a difference between these is crucial as climate predictions and international policy related to emission reductions are based on models that are evaluated against the historical temperature records. The project adopts recently developed systematic methods for uncertainty quantification, and aims at providing accurate models for aerosol forcing that facilitate a more reliable assessment of the impact of aerosols on climate.

Changing Climate and Biological Interactions Related to Forests, CABI

The research consortium is led by Professor Riitta Julkunen-Tiitto.

There is growing evidence that climate change already affects forest ecosystems, especially at the extreme limits of the tree species' range. The key question is the speed of species adaptation to the rapid environmental change. Methodology of plant physiology, molecular biology, ecology, plant secondary chemistry, soil chemistry and atmospheric chemistry and physics will be used to increase the understanding of
    • adaptation mechanisms of forest trees
    • species interactions in forest ecosystems above ground and below ground
    • biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks related to biogenic VOCs, greenhouse gases and formation of secondary organic aerosols, and
    • biological functions and applications of forest related natural products.        
A broad common garden, a targeted open field, a growth chamber, smog chambers and ICOS measurement tower facilities are used mainly at the UEF campuses and in Puijo, Koli and Mekrijärvi. The results of the project will be used to facilitate the protection and management of forests against the changing climate.

Multi-scale Geospatial Analysis of Forest Ecosystems

The research consortium is led by Professor Matti Maltamo.

Global and local environmental changes are modifying forest ecosystems rapidly. The consequences of ecosystem changes on biodiversity, functioning of forests, and provision of ecosystem services are largely unclear. The analysis of ecosystem changes in different spatial scales is scientifically challenging. Reliable and accurate data of forest characteristics are a fundamental requirement for analysing environmental changes and their impacts.
During the last years airborne laser scanning (ALS) has evolved into the most accurate source of remote sensing data in forest environment applications. This project integrates ALS data and advanced ecological and inventory methods to improve information and knowledge basis of forest applications at different spatial scales. The project also unites the approaches of consortium members in a novel way and explores new possibilities for data-driven, spatially and temporally optimised ecosystem management. The project includes three work packages, namely
    • ‘Airborne laser scanning and data fusion for forest resource assessments' led by Professor Maltamo
    • ‘Interdisciplinary method development for remote sensing signal interpretation' led by Professor Jari Kaipio and
    • ‘Ecological patterns and ecosystem services across spatial scales: uniting remote sensing landscape data to stand-level ecological phenomena' led by Professor Jari Kouki.
 

Sustainable Bioenergy, Climate Change and Health

The research consortium is led by Professor Jorma Jokiniemi.

The European Union aims to increase significantly the use of biomass among other renewable energy sources in the next decades. However, currently, there is a lack of understanding on the sustainability of the whole bioenergy chain, from the production of raw materials and energy to their environmental and health effects. This project aims to provide a holistic understanding of the whole bioenergy chain and its relation to climate change and human health. The specific objectives are:
    • to develop experimental platforms to gain lacking data to understand the fate of soil carbon and nitrogen in organic soils used for biomass production
    • to integrate land-water-air processes to develop holistic carbon mitigation strategies
    • to integrate ecological, health and socio-economical aspects for sustainable bioenergy and biomass production
    • to develop new ultra low small scale bioenergy conversion processes
    • to combine the physico-chemical and health related toxicological properties of fresh and aged aerosols emitted from different biomass combustion sources, and
    • to use new integrated methodology to assess the climate and health impacts of air pollutants from biomass-based energy production.


Health and Well-being

Cancer Centre of Eastern Finland: Molecular Mechanisms of Cancer

The research consortium is led by Professor Veli-Matti Kosma.
Cancer Centre of Eastern Finland (CCEF) is an alliance of research groups extending from the fields of basic molecular science to University Hospital clinics. CCEF involves a strong research infrastructure, wide-ranging national and international networking as well as top level scientific research. It comprises 5 research working groups: cancer genetics, cancer epigenetics, interaction between cancer cell and tumour stroma, detection of metastatic tumours and identification of novel invasion/metastasis associated molecules as well as clinical implementation and biobanking, which comprise distinct but mutually reinforcing entities.

CCEF expands the use of modern techniques at the University of Eastern Finland, enforces the university's cancer research status both nationally and internationally and enhances supervision and guidance of PhD level studies. Furthermore, CCEF aims at speeding up the time it takes of a scientific finding to become a tool for patient care, and it supports the creation of systematic tissue sampling (biobanking) and data handling.
CCEF website

Genetics and Nutrigenomics of Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance Related Traits, GENENUTRI

The research consortium is led by Professor Markku Laakso.


Novel Endovascular Therapies in Post-genomic Area

The research consortium is led by Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala.
Endovascular treatments are one of the fastest growing new areas of therapy with significant advantages, such as less invasive nature and suitability for elderly patients with severe, life-threatening diseases. Combined with novel biological treatments (gene therapy, antibody therapy, biodegradable materials with bioactive compounds) endovascular treatments offer tremendous new possibilities for local targeted therapies in several diseases.

To develop new biological therapies, in-depth knowledge of the regulation of transcription factors at the genome-wide level is crucial for the understanding of how cellular signals program gene expression and regulate cellular processes. The research consortium's hypothesis is that this will lead to the identification of new potential treatments and targets for biological therapies. Key signalling systems which will be studied include vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF) and their receptors, steroid receptors, PPARγ, Nf-κB, Nrf2 and calcium-dependent pathways. Furthermore, new RNAi-based approaches, non-coding RNAs and mi/siRNA-based approaches offer new possibilities for targeted therapy.

This project focuses on endovascular therapies for the heart, peripheral arteries and veins, and cerebral vasculature. The project will
    • study the regulation of gene expression with state-of-the-art methods at transcription factor, nuclear receptor (NR) and RNA level
    • test the most potential endovascular therapeutic approaches in well-validated small and large animal models with a focus on new biological treatments for cardiovascular and neurovascular system, and
    • transfer the most promising new endovascular treatments for clinical phase I trials in coronary and peripheral vascular diseases. If successful, results will bring new therapeutic options to several areas of clinical medicine.

Translational Identification of Biomarkers and Therapeutic Strategies for Neurodegenerative Diseases, UEF-BRAIN

The research consortium is led by Professor Asla Pitkänen.
The UEF-Brain consortium is formed by 17 brain research groups representing two UEF faculties (the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Science and Forestry). The research groups are based at the A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences, the Department of Physics, and the Clinical Research Centre, and they work in close collaboration with the University Hospital's Neuro Centre and Imaging Unit. The research fields include Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, normal pressure hydrocephalus, alcoholism, and schizophrenia. 

The objectives of the research are
    • to set up of methodologies for data mining in large patient cohorts with multiple datasets
    • to establish a platform for functional genetics, which integrates genetic, epigenetic, bioinformatics and cellular approaches to be employed for the identification of disease-predicting genes and molecular pathways that can be developed to treatment-targets and biomarkers
    • to develop signal analysis techniques for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suitable for the analysis of the progression of cellular and network changes in the brain, and for identification of imaging biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases, and
    • to set up methodologies for validation of disease mechanisms and biomarkers in clinically relevant in vitro and in vivo models. 

The added value comes from the interaction of the critical mass of about 200 investigators in the Consortium representing different fields of expertise, coordinated joint efforts to set up, test, and use the methodological platforms currently unavailable both in experimental lab and clinic, and a possibility to combine materials from different patient cohorts for search of biomarkers and treatment targets for major neurodegenerative diseases in untraditional ways. 
UEF-Brain homepage


New Technologies and Materials

Interdisciplinary, Translational Research for Improved Diagnosis and Treatment of Musculoskeletal Diseases - Musculoskeletal Research Consortium, MSRC

The research consortium is led by Professor Jukka Jurvelin.
Musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) are the leading causes of pain and disability, having an enormous impact on individuals, families, societies and economies. In the future, the number of MSD patients will increase sharply due to the predicted extensive aging of the population. Among MSDs, osteoarthritis (OA), osteoporosis (OP) and back pain and spine disorders (BPSD) are the major health burdens and urgent scientific development in the prevention, diagnostics and treatment of these diseases is needed to successfully manage the future MSD challenge. Unfortunately, the present techniques for successful management of MSDs are not optimal.

The Musculoskeletal Research Consortium (MSRC) is a multidisciplinary research endeavour that aims at scientific breakthroughs in methodological development and clinical implementations that will take the prevention, clinical diagnostics and treatment of MSDs on a new level. The MSRC forms a continuum from basic scientific research to clinical research and applications. The MSRC consortium develops and applies novel non-invasive or minimally invasive quantitative techniques, such as simultaneous imaging of cartilage and bone, combining measurements of human back with radiological examinations, and computational modelling with load-related tissue remodelling algorithms, for diagnosis of OA, OP and BPSD. The MSRC research teams merge their specific and complementary expertise in biology, medicine, physics and engineering, and combat musculoskeletal problems from various methodological perspectives by including aspects of tissue biology, orthopaedics, rehabilitation, medical physics and imaging. The technology under development by the MSRC will be clinically tested at the Kuopio University Hospital (KUH) and other collaborative hospitals. The partners at the KUH, on the other hand, provide clinical material and data for patient specific analyses when developing novel methodology. Further, each institute has access to very unique scientific databases, enabling the use of specific data within the MSRC.

Novel Materials, Technologies and Drug Molecules Based on Phosphorus and/or Nitrogen Compounds

The research consortium is led by Professor Jouko Vepsäläinen.
The spearhead project "PN compounds" is based on novel phosphorus and/or nitrogen containing compounds. Here, these compounds are used as:
    • novel types of ion exchange materials to purify harmful metal ions (e.g. lead, cadmium and mercury ions) from waste waters
    • green chemistry catalyst applied to prepare various organic molecules with minimum amount of waste
    • research tools in drug discovery and clinical chemistry, for example to detect prostatic cancer from urine based on electronic nose
    • new radioisotope carriers for imaging purposes and
    • novel technique to integrate cartilage to bones. 
The project combines knowledge from chemistry, biochemistry, material science, pharmacy and molecular medicine and it operates in extensive national and international co-operation networks. The goals of the project include significant inventions leading to scientific breakthroughs, high quality publications, commercial products owned by the UEF, as well as Master's and doctoral degrees completed within the project.

Novel Nanostructured Materials for Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Environmental Applications, NAMBER

The research consortium is led by Professor Vesa-Pekka Lehto.
Nanotechnology is an emerging technology which can significantly contribute to raising the living standards and improving the quality of life. Approaches to produce different well-defined nanostructured materials in controlled ways continue to pose significant, unfulfilled expectations in various fields of materials science and natural sciences. The consortium addresses three potential approaches to produce nanomaterials for drug delivery, regenerative medicine and green energy applications:
    • mesoporous silicon nanoparticles produced with electrochemical anodization
    • metallic nano- and nanocomposite particles produced with aerosol methods, and
    • nanotextured composite coatings produced with ultra short pulse laser ablation.
Beside the expertise in material science, the expertise of the consortium also involves pharmaceutical, cellular and imaging fields enabling extensive in vitro and in vivo screenings of the materials developed for the applications indicated above. The consortium presents an interdisciplinary network that combines physics, chemistry, pharmacy, biochemistry and molecular medicine, and it utilises efficiently and widens the present facilities and know-how available at the UEF.

Novel Stem Cell Technologies and Materials for Translational Research in Molecular Medicine, UEF-STEM

The research consortium is led by Professor Jari Koistinaho. Biosciences addressing human physiology and behaviour in health or disease suffer from translational roadblock: there are no relevant cellular or animal models that would allow us to reliably understand physiological functions of the human body in detail.

Stem cell technologies have opened up novel avenues for biomedicine, such as tissue regeneration and engineering. Importantly, recently developed technologies for derivation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) allow the development of patient specific cellular models for basic and applied research that can be used for detailed studies on the molecular mechanisms of human diseases and for the development of novel therapeutics.
The UEF-STEM consortium is formed by 14 research groups representing the fields of stem cells, disease modelling and molecular medicine of cardiovascular diseases, bone & joint diseases, neuropsychiatric diseases, cancer and drug metabolism.

The objectives of the programme are 
    • to set up a methodological platform for state-of-the-art and novel technologies to generate safe disease-specific iPSC line material from various types of human cells, and
    • to further develop methodologies and rodent transplantation models to fully characterize the produced iPSC lines differentiated into cardiocytes, neural, cancer, liver, bone and cartilage cells and make this material available for drug research and regenerative medicine.

Tailored Materials for New Technologies

The research consortium is led by Professor Jari Turunen.
The project, carried out in collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics and Mathematics, seeks to develop and exploit new functional materials with specifically tailored chemical and optical properties. Hierarchical, or multiscale modelling of material properties from atomic/molecular level up to device level is applied to control propagation, polarization, spectrum, and coherence of light, as well as the physical and chemical properties of surfaces. Atom- and molecular level chemical methods are to be used in conjunction with physical materials theory in hierarchical modelling in the preparation of water- and dirt-repellant surfaces, metamaterial structures, as well as resonant and light-emitting structures with complex optical functionality. Metal clusters and linear metal chain systems with anisotropic optical properties will be built on functionalized surfaces by self-assembly and nanolithography to demonstrate photonic devices in molecular scale.