Estonia gets two new research centers

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Two international research consortia led by the University of Tartu have received EUR 30 million from the European Commission to develop two research centers in Estonia over the next six years; The Estonian government will also donate 30 million euros.

One of the centers deals with the digitization of synthetic biology, the other with personalized medicine. In addition to excellent research, the centers will drive the development of the digitized bio-industry and start-ups working on data-based health services, according to the university.

The DigiBio consortium, led by Mart Loog, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at the University of Tartu, aims to combine synthetic biology with informatics and thereby achieve a qualitative leap in both the life sciences and the biotechnology industry. The researchers at the university have been dealing with cellular processes, their control and their conversion for years.

“Now we plan to build a digitized unit for the design and construction of cell systems, connected to IT units dedicated to big data processing and machine learning. With the help of our partners from Denmark, we are developing a unique center in the region, whose work will also boost the development of new biotechnological IT startups and the bioindustry,” Loog said in a statement.

Martin Loog. Photo by Margus Ansu.

An integrated approach to personalized medicine

The Personalized Medicine Consortium, led by Mait Metspalu, Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at the University, aims to establish a personalized medicine research and development center of international excellence in Estonia in cooperation with Tartu University Hospital.

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It will bring together expertise in genetics, IT, clinical medicine, public health and socio-economic analysis to examine all phases of personalized medicine implementation in an integrated way. The project includes research, evaluating the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of personalized healthcare services through clinical trials, improving the usability of electronic health records, and supporting innovation, the university said.

Mait Metspalu. Photo by Karl Erik Piirimees.

As a result of the center’s work, Estonia could become one of the pioneers in implementing personalized medicine in Europe, the university said. Professor Joel Starkopf, Head of Research and Development at Tartu University Hospital, believes that this project is the best way to fulfill University Hospital Tartu’s mission of putting science at the service of patients.

“The goal is the best possible integration of pioneering research in genetics with our everyday diagnostics and therapy,” he said.

Broad research excellence

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

Renno Veinthal, Deputy Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Education, said that receiving funding for two such powerful projects is a great recognition of the achievements of Estonian research to date.

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

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

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