R&D actors in spotlight – UEF Brain Research Unit
The University of Eastern Finland Brain Research Unit (BRU) conducts high-quality clinical research and drug research and collaborates with local, Finnish and foreign research groups and the pharmaceutical industry. The unit’s areas of competence particularly include brain biomarker analyses as well as clinical drug trials, diagnostics, prevention and treatment of neurogenerative diseases and cerebrovascular disorders. The unit also has the capacity to examine the genetic background, risk factors and pathogenetic mechanisms of polygenic diseases.
Key R&D infrastructure provider
The Brain Research Unit operates at the Institute of Clinical Medicine of the University of Eastern Finland and is a key resource for the development of neurosciences in Kuopio. The unit focused on clinical research carried out on volunteer research subjects and their controls investigates cerebral diseases and looks for new solutions for their prevention, diagnostics and treatment.
The unit’s special areas of competence include brain biomarker analyses as well as clinical drug trials and prevention studies on neurogenerative diseases and cerebrovascular disorders. The unit is also equipped to examine the genetic background, risk factors and pathogenetic mechanisms of polygenic diseases. With its partner network, the unit provides the international and Finnish pharmaceutical industry with drug research services ranging from clinic to molecular biology.
The Brain Research Unit plays a key role as a provider of research, development and innovation services and infrastructure and enables brain health research at the international top level.
The Brain Research Unit has research and sampling facilities for extracting blood samples, cerebrospinal fluid samples and punch biopsies. The unit also has laboratory facilities (incl. a biomarker laboratory) for the processing of specimens. For clinical imaging, the unit collaborates with the Kuopio University Hospital Imaging Centre in carrying out extensive imaging. The unit’s clinical research staff include two physicians, four research nurses, one psychologist, and the manager of a development project and the project’s specialist controller. Biomarker laboratory staff and academic researchers in neurology collaborate closely with the employees at the unit.
Cerebrospinal fluid samples can also be extracted at the Brain Research Unit’s facilities.
Enabling research in brain health at a high international level
“The Brain Research Unit has over 20 years of unique experience in patient trials and well-functioning national and international cooperation networks. Our committed top professionals, highly specialised in clinical trials, ensure high-quality research. The Brain Research Unit is a unique research body where proficient research is carried out full-time. It is the only infrastructure of its kind broadly focused on brain health in the Finnish university sector. Finnish patients have also been examined at an extremely high level compared to other European countries, and patients’ willingness to participate in trials is very high, says Adjunct Professor Eino Solje, who was appointed the Director of the UEF Brain Research Unit in January 2023.
Eino Solje’s research is particularly focused on progressive memory disorders in working-aged people. He is also a member of the FinFTD research network focused on frontal lobe dementia. He’s currently leading research projects that aim to develop new diagnostic tools, such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers and extracranial magnetic stimulation. He also studies the impact of extracranial current on the clinical picture of memory disorders.
The Brain Research Unit conducts several clinical trials each year and the biomarker laboratory carries out Alzheimer Marker Analysis (cerebrospinal fluid testing for amyloid-peptide42, tau and phospho-tau proteins offered as a purchased service) and the definition of the neurofilament light chain (NfLc). The laboratory has been accredited as a T320 testing laboratory by the FINAS accreditation service and the used marker methods have been validated for their purposes in the laboratory. The Biomarker laboratory is led by Sanna-Kaisa Herukka, MD, PhD.
The Brain Research Unit has several ongoing drug trials for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Drug trials are often global, which is closely related to regulation by the authorities, which makes it easier to implement drug trials with large operators.
“The practical implementation of studies includes extracting samples, analysis, functional testing and drug dosing. Our clients also highly appreciate the opportunity we offer for taking cerebrospinal fluid samples with high research value. We can also examine patients for disease mechanisms using various neurophysiological measurements or with a nerve cell model created for the patient based on stem cells to carry out various treatment and drug trials. These studies and practices are part of the everyday operations of the Brain Research Unit. The Unit is also equipped to provide the required clinical, specifying data on patients required by trials as well as carry out analyses”, Solje adds.
“Exciting approaches have emerged for new medications, and the set of biological mechanisms used to affect the mechanisms underlying memory disorders has become increasingly versatile. Although these diseases have different phenotypes, their underlying mechanisms are similar. I’d be surprised if new medications would not become available within ten years. In the treatment of memory disorders, we should remember that even minor benefits may have major cost effects”, Solje continues.
A test subject is given test pulses using a transcranial magnetic simulator to indirectly measure the functions of the neurotransmitter systems of the brain.
Kuopio is a centre of exceptionally strong competence in neurosciences
The University of Eastern Finland’s Neuroscience Research Community, NEURO-RC, is formed by twenty academic research groups and collaborates with the Brain Research Unit in sample collection, among other things. This cooperation may generate data with immense research benefits.
“Kuopio has an exceptionally high number of extremely strong, internationally renowned and effective research groups in neuroscience”, Solje notes.
“In the future, it will be important that we will be able to bring the right trials to the right patients. From a more extensive perspective, communications, networking and impacts are related to this endeavour. It is important that we communicate our activities to networks, other operators, possible research patients and client organisations. It is also important that we provide decision-makers with information that the number of clinical drug trials should be increased, as they have not been similarly prioritised in Finland compared to other countries”, Solje explains.
The Brain Research Unit launched on March 1, 2023, an ERDF project in cooperation with the Kuopio Health ecosystem, Kuopio University Hospital, local health tech companies and pharmaceutical industry operators. The project will enable Kuopio Health members to also gain access to the wide networks of the Brain Research Unit. The units’ operations have previously mainly served the needs of pharmaceutical companies and members of the academic community. The aims of the project include expanding the service concept and integrating expertise on impacts from the University of Eastern Finland into the unit’s activities.
“Those interested in collaborating with the Brain Research Unit should contact us by email and explain the issue for which they seek to find a solution. We want to be easily approachable and always aim to fulfil our clients’ extensive needs”, Solje concludes.
Eino Solje, Director of the UEF Brain Research Unit, University of Eastern Finland: eino.solje(at)uef.fi
Kimmo Solehmainen, Development Manager, Kuopio Health osk: kimmo.solehmainen(at)kuopiohealth.fi Anna Karjalainen, Regional Manager, Kuopio Brain & Mind: anna.karjalainen(at)uef.fi
The UEF Brain Research Unit is a key provider of research, development and innovation services and infrastructure that enables internationally high-quality research in brain health in the University of Eastern Finland’s Neuroscience Research Community and as a part of the regional Kuopio Brain & Mind activities of Neurocenter Finland as well as in a national and international network. This article was published in collaboration with Kuopio Health and Kuopio Brain & Mind on 23.5.2023.
Photos: University of Eastern Finland