Medix Prize 2023

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


The Minerva Foundation’s Medix Prize for 2023 was awarded to a research group from the University of Helsinki. The prize was awarded for a scientific article, published in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology, on the development of stem cell therapy for the treatment of diabetes. The prize is worth €20,000.

In type 1 diabetes a person’s body is unable to produce insulin. The condition is treated with insulin injections. For a long time, researchers have searched for ways to restore the body’s ability to produce insulin to eliminate the need for injections.

Insulin-producing cells are located in pancreatic islets. Therefore, diabetes patients have undergone the transplantation of pancreatic islets from deceased organ donors. Research has revealed that this type of operation can restore a patient’s ability to secrete insulin.

“In the best case, this method works quite well. However, few patients can be treated this way, because islets from one donor are usually not enough. Instead, the patient needs repeated transplants from two or three donors,” explains Professor Timo Otonkoski, head of the award-winning research group.

There have been attempts to solve the problem with stem cells. Researchers have looked for methods to use them to generate pancreatic islets. These cells are known as pluripotent stem cells, which can be produced in unlimited quantities and are also used in many other medical studies.

“Thus far, all pancreatic islets generated from stem cells have been immature and their insulin secretion poorly controlled,” says Otonkoski.

His research group has done pioneering work in the development of stem cell therapy for diabetes. The award-winning article demonstrates that both structurally and functionally normal mature pancreatic islets can be generated from stem cells. Their insulin secretion is controlled in a normal manner, and they react to changes in sugar levels just as well as pancreatic islets from organ donors.

Otonkoski’s research group worked in a laboratory setting and conducted tests on mice. Since the publication of the award-winning article, the first successful transplantations of islets produced from stem cells have been accomplished in the United States. Otonkoski believes that cell therapy will at some point become part of the clinical treatment of diabetes. It will be expensive, but since a significant part of the expenses incurred by the disease can be eliminated, even expensive can be cheap.

The model developed by the research group not only enables successful cell transplants, but also makes it possible to study the various ways diabetes is generated and how the disease can be treated and prevented. In the best-case scenario, it may even be possible to develop a drug that will prevent the development of diabetes.

Notable award in biomedicine

The Medix Prize is an important annual award for internationally high-level Finnish medical research. In a manner of speaking, it is the Finnish championship for biomedicine. This was the 36th time it has been awarded.

The Medix Prize is awarded by the University of Helsinki. The award sum is donated to the university by the Minerva Foundation. The foundation funds an 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 winner is selected by a committee consisting of representatives from the universities of Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Eastern Finland and Oulu, who are appointed for a period of three years.


The research group will receive the Medix Prize and give a lecture at 13:10 on 11 September 2023 at Biomedicum, Helsinki, Finland. The award will be presented by Professor Risto Renkonen of the University of Helsinki.

We kindly invite your reporter to attend the event.

Address: Lecture hall 2, Biomedicum, Haartmaninkatu 8, Helsinki, Finland


Photographer Juha Sarkkinen.
The images are free for media use.

Article published in Nature Biotechnology

Photographs and captions of the award-winning research group

The award-winning research group works in Biomedicum, Meilahti, Helsinki. From left: Hossam Montaser, Martina Timonen, Eliisa Vähäkangas, Emma Ryhänen, Anna Ahmala, Jonna Saarimäki-Vire, Jouni Kvist, Väinö Lithovius, Sachin Muralidharan, Solja Eurola, Vikash Chandra, Timo Otonkoski, Diego Balboa. Tom Barsby is missing from the picture.

Some members of the award-winning research group: Diego Balboa (left), Väinö Lithovius and Timo Otonkoski.

Professor Timo Otonkoski

Functional, metabolic and transcriptional maturation of human pancreatic islets derived from stem cells

Further information on the award-winning study:

Timo Otonkoski, Doctor of Medical Science
Professor of Medical Stem Cell Research
University of Helsinki and HUS Children’s Hospital and Biomedicum Stem Cell Centre
Stem Cells and Metabolism Research Programme (STEMM)
+358 (0)50 370 8976

Website of the research group:

Further information on the Medix Prize and the Minerva Foundation:

Professor Vesa Olkkonen
+358 (0)50 411 2297

This media release is distributed by PR Officer Martti Ahlstén

Viestintätoimisto Verbi
+358 (0)50 05 82 588