Mart Saarma - Biography#

Mart Saarma is the Professor of Biotechnology and Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience at the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Finland. He graduated as molecular biologist at Tartu University in 1972 and got his PhD degree for the studies on ribosomal RNA- protein interaction in 1975. He was a junior and senior scientist at Tartu University and then group leader and head of the laboratory at the Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics, Estonian Academy of Sciences. From 1990-2008 he was the professor and director of the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki. He was the organiser and the first director of Biocenter Finland in years 2008-2009.

He has studied the structure, biology and therapeutic potential neurotrophic factors and their receptors. His recent studies are focused on the role of neurotrophic factors in development and neurodegenerative diseases. His group has characterized several new GDNF family receptors and demonstrated that RET receptor tyrosine kinase is the signalling receptor for GDNF. Recently his group has discovered a new neurotrophic factor CDNF and shown that it very efficiently protects and repairs dopamine neurons in animal models of Parkinson’s disease. CDNF in now entering clinical trials on Parkinsonian patients. More recent studies have revealed that the other member of the CDNF family MANF can efficiently protect and stimulate proliferation of beta-cells in animal models of diabetes.

Dr. Saarma has started two biotechnology companies and is the inventor in about 20 patent families. He is the member and chairman of several scientific advisory boards of research institutes. He has received several domestic and international science prizes, including the Nordic Science Prize by Lundbeck Foundation in 2009. He is the member of several academies and EMBO. Currently he is the member of EMBO Council and Vice President of the European Research Council.
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