The main purpose of the Foundation is to promote research in medicine and biosciences by maintaining the Minerva Foundation Institute for Medical Research.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Professor Caj Haglund, chair
Professor Johan Eriksson
Professor Per-Henrik Groop
Docent Patrik Finne
M.Sc. (Econ. & Bus. Adm.) Kim Karhu
M.Sc. (Econ. & Bus. Adm.) Thomas Ramsay
M.Sc. Ann-Christine Sundell, secretary
M.Sc. (Econ. & Bus. Adm.) Carl-Magnus Westermarck
THE ADMINISTRATION IS HANDLED BY THE FOLLOWING GROUPS:
Carl-Magnus Westermarck, chair
In the 1950'ies the academic staff of the Fourth Department of Medicine of the University of Helsinki, located at Maria Hospital, was very actively engaged in research. However, they lacked space. The Head of the Department, Professor Bertel von Bonsdorff (1904-2004), known for his studies on fish tapeworm anaemia, suggested that the scientists pool their grants and rent space for a laboratory. His collaborators agreed and in 1959 rooms were rented from the small Methodist Konkordia Hospital. As a legal frame The Minerva Foundation was formed. Three senior medical scientists with collaborators started the activity: Bror-Axel Lamberg (1923-), internist and endocrinologist, Wolmar Nyberg (1919-1973), hematologist and parasitologist and Ralph Gräsbeck (1930-), clinical pathologist and biochemist. Lamberg was the first Head of the Minerva Foundation Institute for Medical Research. The first junior scientist to produce a doctoral thesis from the Institute was Albert de la Chapelle who started to examine chromosomes at the suggestion of the President of the Foundation, Professor Herman Hortling (1912-1992).
Nyberg and Gräsbeck continued the research of von Bonsdorff and proved that the tapeworm causes vitamin B 12 (cobalamin) deficiency in its host. Subsequently Gräsbeck continued research on the protein-mediated transport of vitamin B 12. Together with Kai Simons they were the first to isolate Castle's intrinsic factor and to describe haptocorrin (which they called R-binder). Lamberg introduced radioactive iodine for the modern diagnosis and for the study of thyroid diseases and confirmed iodine deficiency being the cause of endemic goitre in Finland. De la Chapelle subsequently became a recognised medical geneticist, now emeritus professor of medical genetics of Helsinki University and working in Columbus, Ohio. Simons has become a famous cell biologist, now Head of a Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany. Frej Fyhrquist produced his thesis on renin-angiotensin, became an expert on the hormonal regulation of blood pressure, and is now emeritus professor of internal medicine and was Head of the Institute until the end of 2003, succeeding Gräsbeck who was the head 1971-1994.
The Institute grew and moved several times and is now located in the impressive building Biomedicum Helsinki, an agglomerate of medical research and teaching institutions directly or loosely attached to Helsinki University and the University Hospital. Over the years, many of the Research Units have formed administratively independent institutes, however, in practice integrated with Minerva. Especially worth mentioning is the Folkhälsan Institute of Genetics, once headed by de la Chapelle and later by Jim Schröder, professor of genetics and now President of the Minerva Foundation. This Institute is now completely independent and is headed by prof. Anna-Elina Lehesjoki.
For the research in Minerva numerous laboratory tests were introduced. Many of them became interesting and later routine tests which began to be requested by doctors. However, the Foundation is not permitted to pursue commercial activities and it was difficult to render this service as the customers could not be charged. Therefore, the scientists founded a company, Medix Ltd. to perform the tests. The founders donated their shares to the Minerva and Folkhälsan Foundations and the Liv och Hälsa Society (law then required a limited company to have at least three owners) with the provision that all profit was to be used to promote research. The company has expanded and multiplied in a remarkable way. Today, the Yhtyneet Medix Laboratories Ltd. is the biggest private reference laboratory in Finland. Medix Biochemica Ltd. produces monoclonal antibodies and reagent kits which are sold all over the world. The profits of the companies pay about one-third of the total research costs of Minerva, the rest the scientists pay with grants received from public and private funds.