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UEF neuroscientists secure significant funding from Academy of Finland and EU

The University of Eastern Finland’s research groups in the field of neuroscience have secured significant funding from the EU’s JPND programme for research addressing neurodegenerative diseases. The new projects will focus on the regulation of microglial cells in the brain, the role of air pollution in Alzheimer’s disease, and the development of a 3D multicellular model for brain disease research.

The EU’s Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research, JPND, is an innovative and collaborative European research initiative seeking to tackle challenges caused by neurodegenerative diseases. The goal of the three-year projects is to make use of high-level European research as efficiently as possible in order to promote the prevention and diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases and to enable better treatment and patient care.

“This is a highly competitive funding instrument. To secure funding, high-level research and extensive use of European networks are required,” say the principal investigators of the newly-funded projects, Professor Mikko Hiltunen and Associate Professor Katja Kanninen, and Professor Tarja Malm.

“For the University of Eastern Finland, it is vital that several JPND projects are also being led from here.”

JPND projects are funded in collaboration between national funders and the European Union.

Regulatory mechanisms of microglia offer new insight into the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

The Personalized medicine approach for novel microglia-associated genetic variants in Alzheimer’s disease (PMG-AD) project seeks to understand the role of the regulatory mechanisms of microglia in Alzheimer's disease and consequently to find new biomarkers and therapeutic targets. The project focuses on the genetic variants ABI3 and PLCG2, a risk variant and a protective variant for Alzheimer’s disease, and on their thus far unknown role in microglial cells.  The project will use animal models, human-derived cell models and patient cohorts, as well as PET imaging, omics methods and applications of neurobioinformatics. The obtained data on microglial regulatory networks and mechanisms will be used in applications of personalised medicine. The JPND project is a direct continuation of the AlzTrans project funded by Neurocenter Finland. The project has developed a multi-centre infrastructure for testing applications of personalised medicine. The project is led by Professor Mikko Hiltunen at the University of Eastern Finland and it also involves Researcher Mari Takalo.  Other partners include Professor Christian Haass from Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich and Professor Stefan Lichtenthaler from Technical University Munich in Germany, Professor Jean Charles Lambert from Institut Pasteur de Lille in France, and Professor Jari Koistinaho from the University of Helsinki. The overall budget of the project amounts to approximately 1.4 million euros.

Cross-disciplinary collaboration sheds light on the role of air pollution in Alzheimer's disease

The From air pollution to brain pollution – novel biomarkers to unravel the link of air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease (ADAIR) project studies the associations of environmental factors, and air pollution in particular, with Alzheimer’s disease. Air pollution is responsible for various adverse health effects, including diseases affecting the function of the cardiorespiratory system. Over the past years, it has become evident that air pollution also deteriorates brain health and is linked to Alzheimer's disease. However, the underlying factors remain unknown and biomarkers indicative of these adverse effects are yet to be discovered. The cross-disciplinary ADAIR project studies the link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease, and looks for new biomarkers that could be used for charting the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and its early diagnostics. The project uses patient samples, several large international cohorts, omics analyses, bioinformatics and systems biology. The JPND project also supports the TUBE project funded by the EU's H2020 programme, which also explores the effects of air pollution on brain health. The project is led by Associate Professor Katja Kanninen at the University of Eastern Finland and it also involves Professor Tarja Malm. Other partners include Professor Arfan Ikram from Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, Professor Thomas Sandström and Dr Anna Oudin from the University of Umeå in Sweden, Professor Rosalba Giugno from the University of Verona in Italy and Professor Jan Topinka from the Czech Academy of Science. The overall budget of the project amounts to approximately 1.6 million euros.

3D multicellular models for brain research

The Multicellular organoids: modeling, mechanisms and therapy development for C9ORF72-associated neurodegeneration (ORGTHERAPY) project seeks to develop better multicellular models for research addressing neurodegenerative diseases. The advanced 3D cell models to be developed in the project are based on human induced pluripotent stem cells and they contain multiple cell types. The new cell model will be thoroughly characterised, and it is already being used to study known disease mechanisms and to identify new ones. The model will be used for functional research addressing these disease mechanisms, in particular by using extensive electrophysiological measurements and various omics analyses. The model will also be used to test different drug and gene therapies.  Professor Tarja Malm from the University of Eastern Finland is a partner in this project. The project is led by Professor Mimoun Azzouz at the University of Sheffield in the UK, and other partners include Professor Elena Kozlova from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, Dr Nicola Hamilton from King’s College London in the UK, Associate Professor Esra Cagavi from Istanbul Medipol University in Turkey, and the biotechnology company Elvesys. The overall budget of the project amounts to approximately 1.5 million euros.

For further information, please contact:

PMG-AD project:

Professor Mikko Hiltunen, tel. +358403552014, mikko.hiltunen (a)
Researcher Mari Takalo, tel. +358503426382, mikko.hiltunen (at)
University of Eastern Finland, Institute of Biomedicine, Kuopio

ADAIR project:

Associate Professor Katja Kanninen, tel. +358469210065, katja.kanninen (a)
University of Eastern Finland, A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences, Kuopio


Professor Tarja Malm, tel. +358552209, tarja.malm (A)
University of Eastern Finland, A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences, Kuopio