Millennium Distinction Awards presented to Finnish stem cell research and open source experts

The Millennium Distinction Awards are given by Technology Academy Finland TAF to two Finnish researchers and two companies operating in the same field as the winners of the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize.

The awards for stem cell research go to Senior Scientist Riikka Lund from the Turku Centre for Biotechnology, and to the Helsinki-based biotechnology company Glykos Finland Ltd. The open source awards go to Professor Matti Rossi from Aalto University and to the smartphone company Jolla Ltd. The awards will be presented to the winners on 5 November in Tampere, Finland.

The purpose of the Millennium Distinction Awards is to highlight outstanding Finnish achievements in the field of the most recent Millennium Technology Grand Prize winners. The winners of the 2012 prize came from two different fields. One was Finnish-American Linus Torvalds, developer of the kernel of the Linux open source operating system. Linux has had a significant impact on the openness and development of the Internet. The other prizewinner was the Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka, whose research team successfully generated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) which are capable of self-renewal. The method allows stem cell research to be carried out with extremely pluripotent cells without having to use human embryos. Yamanaka’s method is used to search for new treatments for serious diseases, such as hereditary heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The work of the winners of the Millennium Distinction Awards is just as pioneering as that of the technology prizewinners. Winners in the research group have demonstrated excellence in promoting higher education and launching high-quality research in Finland, while winners in the corporate group have successfully turned technological innovations into products, set up innovation-based growth companies, or served as their directors.

According to Juha Ylä-Jääski, President and CEO of Technology Academy Finland, and chair of the prize jury, several high-quality nominees for the stem cell award and the open source award were evaluated. The two disciplines are quite different, however: Finnish stem cell research remains a narrow and relatively new area of research, whereas in open source development there is much broader expertise.

Pioneering open source development and bold entrepreneurial spirit

Professor Matti Rossi from the Department of Information and Service Economy at Aalto University, winner of the open source research award, has significantly promoted the use of open source code and its use in Finland and globally through his international networks.

Since 2005, Mr Rossi’s research team has been investigating the business models of open source and open data in projects funded by the EU and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.

“Our research has shown that it is possible to create services that users are willing to pay for without compromising openness. The openness of data and code is also important for society in general. Opening up public data is an excellent way of supporting active civic society in the Nordic region,” says Rossi.

Openness is not without its problems, however.

“The greatest threats to openness are associated with the combination of large-scale data, which can lead to serious privacy problems and thereby nurture general unwillingness to support the development of transparency,” Rossi says.

According to the jury, the winner of the open source company award, Jolla Ltd., a smartphone company founded by former Nokia employees in 2011, is a new type of Finnish enterprise whose operations represent a combination of demanding goals, international funding and bold risk-taking. The company is set to launch a smartphone that uses their own open-source based Sailfish operating system towards the end of this year.

“Jolla’s entire technology portfolio is based on open source software and superior expertise in the associated practices. As a whole, Jolla has already shown that this kind of entrepreneurship is possible even in Finland, and that there is also room for other similar enterprises,” says Juha Ylä-Jääski, chair of the jury.

According to Jolla CEO Tomi Pienimäki, the award shows that transparency is important and that openness is appreciated in the sector.

“The entire staff of Jolla shares the same vision, in addition to which the entire open community supports our work and the development of our Sailfish operating system. We participate in dozens of open source projects and contribute to the development of many platform enablers, including the Linux kernel. Co-creation with open source communities can leverage the talent of thousands of developers and enables us to achieved things that would otherwise not be possible. Openness is also a security issue: many eyeballs on the code and processes help prevent backdoors and increase user privacy,” says Pienimäki.

Stem cell research breakthroughs

Winner of the award in the stem cell research series, Senior Scientist Riikka Lund heads the stem cell research team at Turku Centre for Biotechnology together with professor Riitta Lahesmaa. In her research, Lund has studied the mechanisms that enable stem cells to maintain their unique capacity for self-renewal, and how the balance of the stem cell genome may become unstable and alter the regulation of cancer-related genes, for example. Lund has also participated in the development of a database that enables the examination of gene activity in stem cells across the entire genome and in the products differentiated from them.

According to Lund, there is broad expertise in stem cell research in Finland:

“It is important to support both basic and applied stem cell research in order to build a solid foundation for future biomedical applications. Stem cells offer a new way to study illnesses and search for suitable treatments in experimental conditions. Stem cells are also expected to be useful in the future in the repair or replacement of damaged tissue. It is important that Finnish stem cell research promotes this development at the cutting edge of science.”

The winner of the corporate stem cell research series, Glykos Finland Ltd, is a Helsinki-based biotechnology company whose products and technology are based on glycobiology. The company CEO Juhani Saarinen appreciates the highlighting of Finnish stem cell expertise. From the company viewpoint, the award is a recognition of the work of the entire staff as well as the company’s financiers, such as Tekes.

Founded in 2004, Glykos has grown to become profitable and has built a significant patent portfolio. Stem cell products account for about a quarter of the company’s products. In the jury’s view, Glykos is well set to develop applications on the basis of Yamanaka’s innovation.

According to Saarinen, Glykos is the first company to publish stem cell surface structures. The company’s stem cell products focus on laboratory processing of stem cells:

“Combining information about the surface structure of stem cells with that of, say, cancer cells, gives us information about the behaviour of the latter, which then helps us to develop more effective drugs for treatment. Stem cells can already be used to tailor treatments for specific patient groups, as in the treatment of leukaemia, for example.”

More information:

Juha Ylä-Jääski, President and CEO, Technology Academy Finland

juha.yla-jaaski@technologyacademy.fi, tel.+358 (0)40 903 0606

 

Niina Suhonen, Head of Communications and Marketing, Technology Academy Finland

niina.suhonen@technologyacademy.fi, tel.+358 (0)40 843 9438

 

APPENDIX

MILLENNIUM DISTINCTION AWARD 2013 WINNERS

OPEN SOURCE

Jolla Ltd

Jolla Ltd was founded in late 2011 by a group of former Nokia employees who had been developing products based on Meego, Nokia’s Linux-based open source operating system. Jolla is set to launch its own smartphone towards the end of this year. The phone uses Sailfish, their own Linux-based operating system. In the longer term, Jolla plans to concentrate on licensing its operating system to other phone manufacturers.

Matti Rossi

Matti Rossi is professor of information systems at Aalto University School of Business, and associate professor of information systems development at Lappeenranta University of Technology. His research focuses on problems in the development of information systems. Most recently he has studied large-scale ERP and architecture projects and their organisational implications, as well as the use of open data for business.

Matti Rossi earned a Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Jyväskylä in 1994 and a Ph.D. in 1998. He is an internationally acclaimed researcher, as evidenced by top-rated papers published in periodicals (Journal of Database Management 2008) and international conferences (ECIS 2005, HICSS 2006, HICSS 2010). After gaining his Ph.D., he worked at Georgia State University and Erasmus University, and as visiting researcher at Claremont Graduate University. Rossi is the editor-in-chief of Communications of the AIS, official journal of the Association for Information Systems.

STEM CELL RESEARCH

Glykos Finland Ltd

Glykos Finland Ltd is a Helsinki-based biotechnology company, which was founded in 2004. Its R&D projects focus on the development of cancer antibodies, antibody drug conjugate technology, antibody glycoforms and stem cell research. Glykos has created a significant patent portfolio based on glycan research and product development projects. Glykos has been a profitable enterprise from the start. Its operations are financed internally and by funds from Tekes. The customer base of Glykos consists of large pharmaceutical companies. The company currently employs about 60 people.

Riikka Lund

Riikka Lund is the head of laboratory at the Finnish Microarray and Sequencing Centre at the Turku Centre for Biotechnology. She is also co-director of the stem cell research group together with Professor Riitta Lahesmaa. Lund specialises in the study of disturbances in the regulation of genomic balance in stem cell models and in healthy and diseased tissues in connection with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The research is interdisciplinary, international and collaborative and makes use of the latest genome-wide methods.

Lund earned a Master’s degree from the University of Turku in 2001 and a Ph.D. in 2004. She then worked as a researcher at the Centre for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield from 2007 to 2008, and subsequently returned to the Centre for Biotechnology in Turku. Lund’s research results have been published in several internationally prestigious journals.

 

MILLENNIUM DISTINCTION AWARDS 2013 JURY

The jurors of the 2013 Millennium Distinction Awards were top names in Finnish stem cell research and open source development.

Katrina Aalto-Setälä, Adjunct Professor, Institute of Biomedical Technology, University of Tampere

Will Cardwell, Senior Advisor, Global Alliances, Aalto University

Tommi Mikkonen, Director of Department of Computer Science, University of Tampere

Timo Otonkoski, Professor, Experimental Diabetes and Human Stem Cell Research, University of Helsinki

The jury was chaired by Juha Ylä-Jääski, President and CEO of Technology Academy Finland.