Skip to main content

Hankaniemi and Nevala receive funding from the Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment

Published on 3.5.2023
Tampere University
Microscope.Photograph: Jonne Renvall/Tampere University
The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment has chosen 44 new Academy Research Fellows. At Tampere University, funding was received by Minna Hankaniemi and Noora Nevala from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology.

The Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment placed particular emphasis not only on scientific quality, but also on the independence of the researcher, that is, their conditions for embarking on a new line of research and setting up a research group. 

The Council also paid attention to the applicants’ national an d international mobility and networking. 

The Council granted close to 30 million euros for 44 new Academy Research Fellowships. 

The Research Council received 299 applications, meaning that the success rate was around 15%. 

A new vaccine developed against enteroviruses 

In her project, Minna Hankaniemi develops pan-valent enterovirus vaccines. 

Enteroviruses cause tremendous disease burden to humans globally, causing, for example, flaccid paralysis, meningitis, and myocarditis. There are 286 variants of the enterovirus that infect people, but there is no vaccine against 282 of them. 

Even though traditional polio vaccines that are based on inactivated and weakened viruses are being globally used, flaccid paralysis, which is caused by polio, still occurs. Traditional virus-based vaccine technologies cannot be applied to most enteroviruses, and the existing technologies are insufficient for eradicating the polio virus. 

In the project, Hankaniemi’s research group will develop a vaccine against enteroviruses based on a Virus-Like Particle (VLP) that will protect against all types of the enterovirus. The vaccine will be ready to be translated in clinical trials and it will be cost-efficient to produce and supply so it can also reach low-income countries. In clinical use, the vaccine would significantly reduce the global disease burden. The project will also benefit the development of enterovirus diagnostics and the development of treatments. 

Dynamic interactions between retinal pigment epithelium and retina 

Noora Nevala’s project is called Dynamic interactions between RPE and retina: from cells to behaviour. 

Animal eyes are made up of hundreds of different cell types. The visual sensation begins when the visual sensory cells in the retina located at the back of the eye absorb visible light. Retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is responsible for the maintenance of visual sensory cells, and interaction between visual sensory cells and pigment epithelium is essential for cell renewal and the overall functioning of the sense of sight. Failure in any of RPE’s interactive functions can lead to degeneration of the retina and to blinding eye diseases. 

Nevala’s project studies the interaction between different types of visual sensory cells and RPE. The goal is to understand how sodium channels in RPE cells control this mechanism in zebrafish. In the future, the results of the project will significantly help to develop more targeted therapies for visual diseases that burden the population.

Press release, Academy of Finland

Academy of Finland grants funding for new Academy Research Fellowships in biosciences, health and environmental research