4.9. 2015 BioTurku®

Sirpa Jalkanen receives honorary title of Academician of Science

Academy Professor Sirpa Jalkanen from the University of Turku and Academy Professor Ilkka Hanski from the University of Helsinki have been awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science. President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö granted the titles 4 September.

Ms. Sirpa Jalkanen, academy researcer from the University of Turku.

The letters of appointment will be presented to the new Academicians at a ceremony to be held in Helsinki on 17 September.

Based on nominations made by the Academy of Finland, the President of the Republic of Finland may confer the honorary title of Academician of Science to highly distinguished scientists and scholars. The title can be held by no more than sixteen Finnish scientists and scholars at a time.

Academician Sirpa Jalkanen – an international pioneer in research into cell migration in the immune system

Academy Research Professor Sirpa Jalkanen (b. 1954) is one of the world’s leading researchers of the migration mechanisms of immune cells. Among her key accomplishments are the discovery and characterisation of trafficking molecules that regulate inflammatory diseases and the spread of cancer. Together with her research team, she has produced a number of groundbreaking results and innovative observations that have turned previously held conceptions about immunology and vascular biology on their heads. She conducts high-risk, high-gain research with potential to yield significant results to advance the treatment of severe inflammatory diseases and prevent the spread of cancer.

Jalkanen is currently serving her third term as Academy Professor; her last appointment was for 2014–2018. The research post is a five-year position funded by the Academy of Finland. She has headed the MediCity Research Laboratory in Turku, Finland, since 1996, and been Research Professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) since 2006. At present, Jalkanen heads a research team within the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Translational Cancer Biology at the University of Turku.

Jalkanen’s research observations have contributed to the establishment of two biotechnology companies that focus on trafficking molecules as targets for drug development. One such drug under clinical investigation has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of acute lung injury (ALI). Another target for new drug treatments is liver damage. There is no working cure for either of these diseases, which is why the drugs being developed could potentially reduce patient mortality and suffering, and at the same time increase Finland’s lucrative business opportunities in the field of drug development.

Jalkanen’s team includes researchers active in both basic and clinical research, which has served to facilitate the application of top-tier basic research to clinical research, disease diagnostics and patient care. The team has built an extensive network of collaborators, working closely with scientists at renowned international universities (e.g. Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge) and Finnish universities and pharmaceutical companies.

Jalkanen has piloted a number of research projects that have succeeded in training dozens of internationally active researchers. She has also been presented with the Maud Kuistila Award for her contributions to researcher training. In addition, she has distinguished herself by promoting and further improving the basic training provided to physicians.

Jalkanen is also an active figure in society and business. She has been given numerous expert assignments both in Finland and abroad as well as memberships in foundations, research organisations and business companies. She is an influential force in the Finnish scientific community and has, for example, chaired the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. Jalkanen communicates her research findings in a number of different ways, via public lectures, newspaper interviews and television appearances, for instance.

“The most fascinating aspect of research is the thrill of the hunt and the joy of discovery. I’ve always sought to study the unknown, to uncover something of significance to the treatment or prevention of diseases. Admittedly, this approach may often lead you into uncharted territory with no map or signposts. And when you suddenly find the answer you were looking for – be it a new phenomenon, molecule or mechanism – you see things in a new light and find your way forward,” Jalkanen explains.

Sirpa Jalkanen’s research merits are also evidenced by her many Finnish and international awards. Most notable among these are the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim’s Young Researcher Award (1987), the Matti Äyräpää Award (2008, the most eminent prize in medicine in Finland) and the Datta Medal by the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (2011). In 2005, she also received the Anders Jahre Award, which recognises research of outstanding quality in basic and clinical medicine in the Nordic countries.

Jalkanen accepts the honorary title of Academician of Science with much appreciation. “I hope to carry the title wisely so that I can use my experience for the benefit of the scientific community and society at large.”