Estonia to have two new research centres

Two international research consortia, led by the University of Tartu, received €30 million from the European Commission for the development of two research centres in Estonia over the next six years; the Estonian government will also donate €30 million.

One of the centres deals with the digitalisation of synthetic biology and the other with personalised medicine. Besides research excellence, the centres will boost the development of digitalised bioindustry and start-ups working on data-based health services, according to the university.

The consortium DigiBio, led by Mart Loog, a professor of molecular systems biology at the University of Tartu, aims to combine synthetic biology with computer science and thereby achieve a quality leap both in biosciences and the industry using biotechnology. The university researchers have been studying cellular processes, their management and remodelling for years.

“Now, we are planning to set up a digitalised unit for designing and building cell systems that is linked to IT units engaged in big data processing and machine learning. With the help of our partners from Denmark, we are developing a unique centre in the region, the work of which will also foster the development of new biotech-related IT start-ups and the bioindustry,” Loog said in a statement.

Mart Loog. Photo by Margus Ansu.

An integrated approach to personalised medicine

The consortium on personalised medicine, led by Mait Metspalu, a professor of evolutionary genomics at the university, aims to establish a personalised medicine research and development centre of international excellence in Estonia in collaboration with the Tartu University Hospital.

It will bring together expertise in genetics, IT, clinical medicine, public health and socio-economic analyses to explore all stages of implementing personalised medicine in an integrated way. The project will involve research, evaluating the utility and cost-effectiveness of personalised healthcare services through clinical trials, making electronic health records more usable and supporting innovation, according to the university.

Mait Metspalu. Photo by Karl Erik Piirimees.

As a result of the centre’s work, Estonia could become one of the pioneers in implementing personalised medicine in Europe, the university said. Professor Joel Starkopf, the head of research and development at the Tartu University Hospital, believes this project is the best way to implement the mission of the Tartu University Hospital to put science at the service of patients.

“The aim is to achieve the best possible integration of frontier research in genetics with our everyday diagnostics and therapeutics,” he said.

Broad-based research excellence

According to Kristjan Vassil, the vice rector for research of the University of Tartu, the fact that two research and development projects of this magnitude have reached the university in the conditions of competitive research funding is a historic achievement and a clear sign of the broad-based nature of our research excellence.

Renno Veinthal, the deputy secretary-general at the Estonian education ministry, said receiving funding for two such powerful projects is a great recognition of the achievements of Estonian research so far.  

The projects are supported by the Teaming for Excellence action under the European Commission’s research and innovation funding programme Horizon Europe. It supports collaborative projects between European research institutions to deliver cutting-edge research and better integrate it into society and the economy.

The projects will start in 2023 and run for six years.

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