Brain disease and cancer - the big research challenges for the future


There are plenty of challenges ahead for researchers in the coming years as they develop treatments and medicines for taking care of and cure those.

From the left: Sir Colin Blakemore, Riitta Hari, Jonathan Knowles and Aarno Palotie.

In recent years, foundational neurological science research has changed the research and treatment methods for brain diseases, and in the near future current cancer treatment programs will be replaced with individually tailored and more effective medications that make use of computer modelling technology.   The development and implementation of different innovations has been an outcome of cooperation between different actors from different research fields. One important factor has been way different databases and computational methods have been put to use.

During the World Cultural Council Week, which just recently came to an end, participants considered the societal impact of research being carried out in universities, and the development of business activities that make use of research findings. In the Human Health unit, led by Risto Nieminen, Dean of the School of Science, experts in neuroscience and molecular medicine tackled the treatment of brain disease and cancer from their own research field's perspective.  An overview was presented by Professors Sir Colin Blakemore, Jonathan Knowles, Aarno Palotie and Aalto Distinguished Professor Riitta Hari.

The experts’ clear message was that our attitudes towards health and treatment of disease will change significantly in the near future.  Current statistical methods enable the development of entirely new approaches to the treatment and prevention of disease.

The imaging and mapping of brain diseases is now carried out using specialised technology which enables examination from outside the skull. The mapping data obtained is then transformed using computational methods into a usable form.   The research group led by academic Riitta Hari  holds a key position in the development of brain research methods.

Treatment of brain diseases becomes more effective when computational methods enable predictions of which medicines will be most effective for the individual.  Finnish molecular biology and computer science researchers are at the forefront internationally of research in this area.

People are more interested than ever in their own state of health and keep track of it by storing information digitally about themselves. The data generated in this way can be made use of in the future when a comprehensive picture of the person's health is desired. Information can be collected already at the grocery store counter, helping people to make healthier choices. 

There is still some way to go to develop the kind of application that combines genetic and environmental information and forecasts our state of health and future diseases. This kind of innovation is possible, however, and Finnish researchers have every possibility of making a breakthrough in this area.

Presentation of the speakers:

Sir Colin Blakemore, Professor of Neuroscience & Philosophy, University of London,

Jonathan Knowles, Visiting professor, University of Oxford and University of Helsinki. Former Member of the Executive Committee and Head of Group Research at Hoffmann-La Roche, Professor (Em.) of Translational Research, EPFL Switzerland,

Aarno Palotie, Professor, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Research Director of the Human Genomics Program, Institute for Molecular Medicine, University of Helsinki 

Riitta Hari, Aalto Distinguished Professor, Academician of Science, Aalto University, Member of the US National Academy of Sciences