Innovation Cooperation in Brain Research is Intensifying in Southwest Finland
The University of Turku and the Turku University Central Hospital (TYKS) have signed a cooperation agreement on the establishment of the Turku Brain & Mind regional network. The network promotes brain health research and cooperation in Southwest Finland. The regional networks of the Neurocenter Finland have been in operation since late 2021.
Mikko Pietilä, Chief Medical Officer of the Hospital District of Southwest Finland (left), Saija Tarro, Development Manager of the Turku Brain & Mind Center, and Mikko Hurme, Training Manager, Juho Joutsa, Assistant Professor, and Professor Hasse Karlsson.
The University of Turku and the Turku University Central Hospital have strengthened their cooperation in the field of brain research after the establishment of the regional network of Neurocenter Finland in Turku. The network operates as a part of the Turku Brain & Mind Center, which was established in 2011.
The aim of the regional network is to make the brain research carried out in Southwest Finland and the related competence better known to the public. Another important goal of the network is bringing companies and researchers together, and thus fostering innovation in the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of brain diseases. In addition, the Turku Brain & Mind Center gathers the neuroscience expertise and research infrastructures of Turku under one roof.
The chairman of the management group of the Turku Brain & Mind Center is Hasse Karlsson, Professor of Integrative Neuroscience and Psychiatry, who has a long and successful career as a clinician and researcher. Today, he is also the director in charge of the unique FinnBrain follow-up study.
– Turku has excellent potential to evolve into a pivotal concentration of brain research and treatment of brain diseases in Finland. Brain research is already very active and extensive in Turku. The joint regional network of the University of Turku and the Turku University Hospital will develop this activity further, says Karlsson.
Mikko Pietilä, Chief Medical Officer of the Hospital District, is the representative of the Hospital District of Southwest Finland in the management group.
– The hospital district has made significant investments in promoting the treatment and research of neurological diseases. Most recent of them is the decision to acquire Finland's first high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) device for the treatment of neurological diseases. Turku Brain & Mind Center plays an important role in coordinating the further development of neuroscience expertise and treatment, says Pietilä.
In addition to Turku, regional Brain & Mind networks of the Neurocenter Finland are located in Helsinki, Tampere, Kuopio, Jyväskylä, and Oulu. Most of them have started their operations in the recent months.
Neuroscience Research and Education Spanning Over Several Decades
Turku has a long line of expertise in brain and mind research. Extensive research has been conducted in the Turku University Hospital and the University of Turku in the fields of neurology, psychiatry, psychology, neurophysiology, and imaging.
There are approximately 20 brain research groups currently operating in the Turku region, and they operate under the Turku Brain & Mind Center. Areas of research include brain development, cognitive processes, emotions, consciousness, sense of vision, sleep, obesity, psychotic disorders, addictions, neurodegenerative diseases, neuroimmunology, neurotraumatology, neuropathic pain, and magnetic stimulation of the brain.
The Turku Brain & Mind Center has also organised and coordinated the teaching of neurosciences in Turku since 2011. The Human Neuroscience Master's Program was launched in the autumn of 2018 and the Minor in Neuroscience is open to all students at the University of Turku.
Local and National Cooperation Projects
Assistant Professor of Neuroimaging, neurologist Juho Joutsa studies the origins of brain diseases. Since 2020, Joutsa has led the extensive BRAIN study to collect the world's first prospective lesion data for brain network analysis. The method was developed at Harvard University, where Joutsa was a visiting researcher, but its use has been hindered by the limited lesion data available.
The BRAIN study is expected to provide extensive information on the origins of symptoms of neurological and psychiatric disorders in the brain, which may reveal new possibilities for the treatment of these disorders.
– This research would not be possible without the seamless cooperation between Turku University Central Hospital and the University of Turku, says Joutsa.
Professor Satu Jääskeläinen, Director of Hospital District of Southwest Finland's Centre of Excellence in Neuromodulation Therapy, also mentions that Turku University Central Hospital's Centre of Excellence in Neuromodulation is conducting a two-centre study with the Helsinki University Hospital and the University of Helsinki on non-invasive neuromodulation treatment of CRPS pain, and also a collaborative project with the Karolinska Institute and Tampere University Central Hospital on the treatment of patients with depression.
– The most recent matter in the field of non-invasive neuromodulation therapies is the Neuro-HIFU device, which was procured for Turku University Central Hospital this spring and which, for the very first time in Scandinavia, offers a non-invasive treatment option for patients suffering from, for example, severe tremor and Parkinson’s disease, and in the future also for difficult-to-treat neuropathic pain and inoperable brain tumours, says Jääskeläinen.
Neurocenter Finland is a co-operation network established in 2021 including seven Finnish universities and five hospital districts. The coordinating unit operates in connection with the University of Eastern Finland.
Image: Suvi Harvisalo