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Minerva Foundation

The Minerva Foundation supports and promotes Finnish research in the field of natural sciences, especially medicine. The major activity is maintenance of the Minerva Foundation Institute for Medical Research at the Biomedicum Helsinki research center.


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Minerva Foundation



The Minerva Foundation’s Medix Prize awarded to a research group from the University of Helsinki


The Minerva Foundation’s Medix Prize, worth €20,000, has been awarded to a team researching the rejuvenation of the functioning of aged tissue by inhibiting signals between stem cells and their niche cells. The prize was awarded for an article published in the science journal Nature by a research group from the University of Helsinki. The research group is headed by Associate Professor and Director of the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Stem Cell Metabolism Pekka Katajisto.

The mechanism discovered by the research group may represent a safer way to treat gastrointestinal complications in elderly people, reduce the harmful side-effects of chemotherapeutic agents and support the recovery of older patients.

According to the head researcher of the project, PhD student Nalle Pentinmikko, compromised tissue function in elderly people has been known for a good while. In addition, reduced function of stem cells is known to have a role in poor regeneration of old tissues.

“Research has so far focused on the intrinsic mechanisms in the functional decline of stem cell. Our research is amongst the first to examine the role of the neighbourhood, the niche, of ageing stem cells. To our surprise, we discovered that incorrect signals are sent from the niche to stem cells which deteriorates the functional capacity of stem cells and therefore negatively affects their ability to regenerate damaged gut tissue,” Head Researcher Pentinmikko says. 

Stem cells require Wnt molecules, which regulate their ability to proliferate. In old tissue, Paneth cells, surrounding the stem cells, produce an enzyme called Notum, which is an extracellular Wnt inhibitor. This results in the decreased regeneration capacity of stem cells which, in turn, negatively affects the recovery of damaged gut tissue. Whereas Notum was already known to researchers, its connection to stem cell biology has now been established for the first time.

The discovery of the mechanism allows for correcting miscommunication between cells by means of pharmacological inhibition or genetic targeting of Notum.

“At the end of the research, we found a pharmacological molecule that may create a basis for future medical treatment. The US-based research group that has developed the molecule had discovered its Notum inhibiting function, but they didn’t know when and where this kind of molecule could be used,” Head Researcher Pentinmikko says.

According to Katajisto’s vision, there could in ten years’ time be treatments and medicines to rejuvenate the stem cells function of elderly patients in such a way that their ability to repair damaged tissue would be closer to that of young tissue.

“This will be of great importance in cancer treatment, for example, where the most commonly used treatments often result in serious damage to healthy tissue, in particular in older individuals. Currently, the risks associated with such harmful side-effects can influence treatment decisions for elderly patients even in cases where the treatment could be beneficial” says Katajisto.

The newly discovered mechanism cannot be used for preventing or curing illnesses, but it can be used for facilitating recovery from certain conditions and the severe side-effects of treatments in the future. The research group has already launched research into the role of Notum in the onset of colorectal cancer.

Caption: The research group used mice and human source materials. Director Pekka Katajisto (rear) observes Head Researcher Nalle Pentinmikko preparing a small intestine dissected from an aged mouse. Photographer: Martti Ahlstén.  

The Medix Prize by the Minerva Foundation is an important annual award for internationally high-level Finnish medical research. The Medix Prize is, in a manner of speaking, the Finnish championship for biomedicine. This year the Medix Prize will be awarded for the 33rd time.

The Medix Prize is awarded by the University of Helsinki, and is donated to the university by the Minerva Foundation, which funds the Minerva Foundation Institute for Medical Research at Biomedicum Helsinki.

The prize is awarded annually for excellent Finnish scientific research published as one article during the previous year. The research is to be in the fields of biomedicine or clinical medicine and performed fully or in its essential parts in Finland.

The awardee is selected by a committee consisting of representatives from the universities of Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Eastern Finland and Oulu, who are appointed for three years.


The research group will receive the Medix Prize and give a lecture during a virtual event on 14 September 2020 at 12.00 noon. We kindly invite you to follow the event online.

Zoom link to Medix webinar on 14 September at 12.00 noon:
ID number: 645 9388 3041

We wish you a warm welcome! 

If you have not used Zoom before, the link will automatically suggest downloading the software. Then the software has been downloaded, you have to log in to the seminar using the ID number above. Joining the seminar is free of charge and does not require creating separate login.  

Further information and materials:

Photographs of the award-winning research group:
Photographer: Martti Ahlstén.
The images are free for media use.

Caption: The research group used mice and human source materials. Director Pekka Katajisto (rear) observes Head Researcher Nalle Pentinmikko preparing a small intestine dissected from an aged mouse.

Article published in Nature (login or fee required. Please contact Director Pekka Katajisto if you do not have login data):
Notum produced by Paneth cells attenuates regeneration of aged intestinal epithelium.

Further information on the award-winning study:

Head Researcher Nalle Pentinmikko, +358 (0)40 719 8254, nalle.pentinmikko(at)helsinki.fi
Director Pekka Katajisto, +358 (0)40 708 5349. pekka.katajisto(at)elsinki.fi
Research group website: katajisto-lab.com

Further information on the Medix Prize and the Minerva Foundation:
Professor Vesa Olkkonen, +358 (0)50 411 2297, vesa.olkkonen(at)helsinki.fi

This media release is distributed by PR Officer Martti Ahlstén
Viestintätoimisto Verbi
+358 (0)500 582 588



09/2020 – Ralph Gräsbeck Scholarship for Research in Laboratory Medicine 


The 2020 Ralph Gräsbeck Scholarship for Research in Laboratory Medicine is awarded to M.D., Ph.D., Panu Luukkonen at Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, USA. The Ralph Gräsbeck Scholarship is granted to Luukkonen for his research “A mendelian randomization study of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in humans”. 

The Ralph Gräsbeck scholarship is awarded every other year for a scientist who has defended his/her doctoral thesis during the past seven years in the field of laboratory medicine and continued innovative and high-quality research in the same field. The amount of the scholarship is 10.000 EUR and this is the second time the scholarship is awarded.

6/2020 - Funding decisions 
From Selma and Maja-Lisa Selander’s fund 16 grants were awarded 2020, in all 119 500 EUR. 


MINERVA SCIENTIFIC REPORT 2019 - 60th Anniversary



4/2020 - Säätiöiden Covid-19 apurahapäätökset

Säätiöiden Covid-19 pooli on tehnyt päätöksensä rahoitettavista hankkeista, joista luettelo ohessa. Poolissa olivat mukana Vainion säätiö, Paulon säätiö, Suomen Lääketieteen säätiö ja Minervasäätiö.

Hakemuksia tuli peräti 180 kappaletta, joka on suuri määrä, kun otetaan huomioon lyhyt hakuaika. Hakemukset olivat erittäin hyviä, joten valinta oli vaikeaa. Painotimme korkean tieteellisen tason lisäksi menossa olevia tai nopeasti aloitettavia hankkeita, joiden tuloksia toivon mukaan voidaan myös hyödyntää nopeasti. Iso osa hankkeista sopii hyvin säätiöiden normaaleihin apurahahakuihin esimerkiksi ensi syksynä.

Kiitos kaikille hakijoille ja myötätuulta hankkeisiinne!

Vapalahti Olli Exploring parameters associated with COVID-19 severity and monitoring spread: clinical sample and data bank. 100 000 EUR (Vainion säätiö)

Paavilainen Ville Identification and production of diagnostic and therapeutic COVID-19 antibodies. 50 000 EUR (Vainion säätiö)

Tammela Päivi Drug repurposing for SARS-CoV-2 with an open high throughput drug screening platform. 100 000 EUR (Vainion säätiö

Carpen Olli COVID-19 – infektion kulkuun vaikuttavien tekijöiden ennustaminen HUSin kattavan tietoaineiston ja biopankin avulla. 100 000 EUR (Vainion säätiö)

Kuure Satu Cyclosporin A as a Covid-19 treatment. 50 000 EUR (Vainion säätiö)

Ripatti Samuli GeneRISK COVID-19 tutkimusprojektin tutkimussuunnitelma. 50 000 EUR (Vainion säätiö)

Sourander Andre Lasten koronavirusepidemiaan liittyvä ahdistuneisuus: kognitiivis-behavioraalisiin menetelmiin perustuvan internet-pohjaisen lyhytintervention tutkimus. 50 000 EUR (Vainion säätiö) 

Vaara Suvi COVID-19 tehohoidossa. 100 000 EUR (Paulon säätiö)

Kantele Anu Convalescent plasma therapy in treatment of COVID-19 infection. 100 000 EU (Suomen Lääketieteen säätiö)

Pietiäinen Vilja Multiplexed and miniaturized immunofluorescence assay (IFA) for SARS-CoV2 immunity measurement with AI-assisted image-analysis. 100 000 EUR (Minervasäätiö)


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