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European Research Council supports Finnish endeavours

Hannu Häkkinen at the University of Jyväskylä will use his grant to develop computational methods for studying the interaction between metal nanoparticles and biomolecules, such as DNA.

University of Jyväskylä

Five Finnish research projects have received a roughly 2.5-million-euro advanced grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

The largest personal research grants available in Europe, the five-year advanced grants were awarded to research projects at the University of Helsinki, University of Jyväskylä and University of Turku.

Maria Maunula, research funding specialist at the University of Turku, highlighted that the highly sought-after grants are awarded only to the research ideas of the highest international level.

The projects seek to tackle phenomena both minuscule and infinite, both ancient and modern: from analysing the first gravitational waves to cast light on the cosmos at its birth to modelling the interaction between biomolecules and metal nanoparticles, understanding the link between negative emotions and physical wellbeing, and re-analysing how work at temples shaped the economy and society in the Persian Empire.

Hannu Häkkinen, professor of computational nanoscience at the University of Jyväskylä, said his research to develop computational methods to study the interaction between biomolecules and metal nanoparticles has potential applications in the field of nanomedicine.

In photodynamic therapy, for example, the particles absorb the radiation directed at them and destroy the cancer cell either through heat or chemical reaction. Nanoparticles can also serve as targeted delivery vessels for cancer drugs, an application that has already yielded promising results in clean laboratory settings and tentative modelling, according to Häkkinen.

“The problem, however, has been that we do not yet know how other molecules such as proteins adhere to the surface of metal particles in a biological environment and how they impact the functionality of the particle in time scales that are relevant for changes taking place in a biological environment. My ERC project aims to bring more light to this matter,” he stated.

Kari Rummukainen and Jason Silverman from the University of Helsinki have each been awarded grants worth roughly 2.5 million euros.

University of Helsinki

Professor Johanna Ivaska is one of two grant recipients at the University of Turku. She will set out to assess how the biological limits of a healthy body prevent or contribute to the spread of cancer in an attempt to understand how breast and pancreatic cancer evolve from a local tumour to a metastatic disease.

“Many localised cancers are currently curable with surgery and medical treatment, but advanced and metastatic cancers are often fatal,” she noted.

“The mechanisms of cancer metastasis are still poorly understood and no targeted drugs have been developed to combat them. In the funded project, we will study the interaction between cancer tissue and healthy tissue in patient samples and test our findings of the mechanisms of cancer metastasis using different laboratory tests.”

By: Aleksi Teivainen