The Hospital District of Southwest Finland has chosen the Turku Immunology Centre as its unit of excellence. The Centre, which was established at the end of 2021, was also selected to the Roadmap for Research Infrastructures of the University of Turku.
The Turku Immunology Centre is a joint centre of the Faculty of Medicine and Turku Bioscience Centre of the University of Turku and the Hospital District of Southwest Finland. It is strongly connected to the InFLAMES Flagship. Director of the InFLAMES Flagship, Academician Sirpa Jalkanen says that the Immunology Centre is an extension to InFLAMES, as the Flagship could not initially include all the immunologists in the region. Immunology is a branch of medicine which studies the human immune system.
“The Turku Immunology Centre was founded to promote basic and clinical research in immunology as well as the collaboration between them here in Turku. We invite everyone whose work involves immunology or those who are interested in field to participate in the Centre's activities”, encourages Jalkanen.
At the Turku University Hospital, the unit of excellence is led by Docent and Paediatrician Johanna Lempainen.
“Our goal is to not only conduct research but also to develop and increase the diagnostic methods so that we can offer targeted treatments and improve the patients’ conditions,” says Lempainen.
Lempainen highlights the importance of diagnostics as more and more new and expensive biological treatments are becoming available in healthcare. They can have a life-changing effect on patients’ well-being. However, the challenge is how to identify the patients who will benefit from the treatment and those who are in risk of experiencing adverse effects.
Versatile Clinical Research
At the Turku Immunology Centre, basic and clinical research is conducted in neuroimmunology, rheumatology, dermatology, allergology, gastroenterology, infectious diseases, paediatrics, and oncology.
The Centre provides its researchers with the latest research technology with specialised features for immunological research. The special characteristics of immunological research include, for instance, the need to observe how the human immune system functions on a cellular and molecular level. The Centre is also very active towards companies and offers them immunological expertise and research platforms. The Centre is seeking to increase its collaboration especially with pharmaceutical, bioscience and diagnostics companies.
The collaboration is not limited only to national actors and the Centre is aiming for an international field of operations.
“We will be an internationally recognised organisation in immunology,” says Sirpa Jalkanen.
The Turku Immunology Centre was also selected to the Roadmap for Research Infrastructures of the University of Turku. The selection criteria stated that the Centre extensively fulfils the quality criteria required of the units of excellence included in the Roadmap. In addition, the Centre was considered a significant and strategically important part of the InFLAMES Flagship.
Increasing Need for Immunology Experts
Finland needs next-generation immunologists and clinicians who are familiar with the most advanced immunological treatments within their speciality. The Immunology Centre aims to meet this challenge.
“We are training the next generation of immunologists. The need for expertise in the field is increasing constantly as the significance of immunology has grown in almost all the medical specialities in the last few years. Many inflammatory diseases are difficult to treat, progressive, and weaken the patients’ ability to function. They cause a great deal of healthcare costs, but also indirect costs for society through disability and lowered ability to function,” says Jalkanen.
“For example, therapies targeting the immune system work in the treatment of many diseases, but only on some of the patients. Therefore, smooth co-operation between the researchers and the experts in patient care is needed when selecting and developing treatments."
As a concrete example of the Centre’s operations, Jalkanen mentions an expert working group that meets regularly and discusses difficult patient cases related to immunology with the lead of the clinician. The working group combines the extensive immunological expertise of clinical doctors and researchers, which benefits clinical work directly and, naturally in the end, the patients themselves.
The Immunology Centre Kick-off Seminar is held on 21 November 2022.
InFLAMES Flagship is a joint initiative of University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, Finland. It aims at identifying new targets for drug development and engaging in drug development together with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. InFLAMES also develops diagnostics so that targeted therapies can be designed for individual patients.