Honourable traditions in research of pediatric diseases

The current research at the Pediatric Research Center is based on its honourable research traditions of more than a hundred years, which started when the Children’s Hospital was founded in Helsinki to promote the teaching of pediatrics at the university level. Before, children had been treated together with adults. The original Children’s Hospital had 60 beds and was located in imperfect facilities on Tehtaankatu. The number of beds, physicians and nurses multiplied when a new building was completed on Stenbäckinkatu after the wars in 1946. The improved conditions allowed for improved care for children, which clearly lowered pediatric mortality.

With funds from the supporters of the Pediatric Research Fund, the Children’s Hospital constructed its first laboratory and hired laboratory personnel. Little by little, the physicians at the Children’s Hospital found new specialities and a pediatric surgical ward was opened at the hospital. The treatment of neonates took a huge step forwards when the doors of the Women’s Hospital opened for the pediatric physicians. Around the same time, the fast development of medicine offered pediatric physicians effective means to treat pediatric diseases.

Pediatric research begins

The pioneer of Finnish pediatric research, professor Arvo Ylppö (1887–1992), started his scientific work in the 1920s. He introduced the standards of high-class research into Finland and developed premature infant research and the treatment of premature infants to the top level in the world. His insights on neonates and premature infants were based on carefully researched clinical patient data, post-mortem findings and careful follow-up studies of surviving infants.

Led by professor Niilo Hallman (1916–2011), the Children’s Hospital was developed into a versatile hospital with expertise in all pediatric diseases as well as versatile research and treatment opportunities. Alongside Ylppö, Hallman is considered another great force in Finnish pediatrics. The way to the world opened after the wars, and people travelled to the United States to learn about modern medicine. Niilo Hallman’s period of studying and working at the Harvard Medical School Boston Children’s Hospital in 1947 was a decisive moment that resulted in Hallman bringing the American research traditions and modern laboratory methods that were necessary in modern fluid treatment, for example. He also brought with him a new kind of hospital culture and his network consisting of several leading pediatricians in the US, which benefited both his students and his colleagues. Hallman influenced the development of modern pediatrics in Finland, which resulted in plenty of research in the different fields of pediatrics. In addition, he developed training and a support system for pediatric research. Hallman’s contemporary Ole Wasz-Höckert (1918–2015) was the Swedish-speaking professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital and later also an active national politician.

Innovations to benefit children

Research of infectious diseases soared in the 1940s. Researchers focused on the underlying causes, clinical picture and treatment of tuberculosis and diarrhoea, for example. Slowly, infectious diseases became less common and the researchers turned to new challenges. In the mid-1950s, Niilo Hallman published the first report on congenital renal dystrophy, which proved to be much more common in Finland than in other countries. This was the beginning of the research of congenital diseases in Finland, which has led to the discovery of a host of rare diseases. More information about metabolic disorders related to these diseases was obtained later on, which allowed for an investigation of the related genetic abnormalities.

Hallman’s research project Terve lapsi (“A healthy child”) in the 1950s and 1960s provided important information about normal growth and development of children and adolescents. This information is absolutely necessary in the identification of disorders. The first growth curves and information on the milestones in the development of a Finnish child were also created on the basis of the follow-up data. The same tradition included research projects on growth and dysplasia by professor Jaakko Perheentupa (born in 1934) in the 1970s and 1980s, which resulted in the discovery of new diseases, such as Mulibrey Nanism Syndrome (Perheentupa Syndrome). Around the same time, professor Hans Åkerblom (born in 1934) started his internationally renown research of pediatric diabetes.

Pediatric surgeons Matti Sulamaa (1910–1988) and his successor Ilmo Louhimo (1931–2014) continuously developed and studied new surgical methods and made the Children’s Hospital an internationally valued pediatric surgery hospital.

More versatile and international research of pediatric diseases

Important scientific achievements of the Children’s Hospital include research on renal disorders and pediatric organ transplantation by a group led by professor Christer Holmberg and research on haematology and nutrition by professor Martti Siimes from the 1980s up until the new millennium. Around the same time, other meritorious scientific research projects at the Children’s Hospital included professor Erkki Savilahti’s research on intestinal diseases and the development mechanisms of allergies and professor, later on chancellor, Kari Raivio’s research on the treatment of premature infants. In the 1970s and 1980s, professor emeritus Mikko Hallman from the University of Oulu conducted internationally important research at the Helsinki Children’s Hospital on RDS disease in premature infants and its treatment with surfactant.

Professors Ulla Pihkala (Saarinen), Leo Dunkel and Hannu Jalanko were engaged, together with their students, in important research and development work in their fields of expertise: pediatric haematology, pediatric endocrinology and pediatric nephrology, as well as organ transplantation. The first professorship of pediatric neurology in Finland was established at the University of Helsinki in 1988, and the first holder of the post was Matti Iivanainen. He was succeeded by Lennart von Wendt (1947–2009), Helena Pihko and Leena Haataja. Several other internationally renown researchers and clinicians, such as Märta Donner and Pirkko Santavuori, have also worked in this field.

Large research projects

The trend in medical research, especially since the 1990s, has been towards large research projects that span over several years or even a decade. Examples of such projects include professor Mikael Knip’s research on pediatric type 1 diabetes, related stem cell studies by professor Timo Otonkoski and neurophysiological research on premature infants by Sampsa Vanhatalo.

Other research of scientific reputation includes studies of groups led by Sture Andersson, Markku Heikinheimo, Kaija-Leena Kolho, Taneli Raivio, Risto Rintala, Mikko Seppänen and Kim Vettenranta on problems with premature infants, the biology of developmental disorders and cancer, intestinal anomalies in pediatric patients, development during puberty, human stem cell research, hypogonadism and methods for early detection of developmental disorders. Furthermore, the development mechanisms of several diseases have been actively studied and treatment and follow-up methods have been developed.

For more information on the history of Finnish pediatric medicine and the history of children’s health, please visit ylppo.fi.

Professors at the University of Helsinki Children’s Hospital 1892–2015

Professors of pediatrics

Markku Heikinheimo 2010–
Mikael Knip 2000–
Christer Holmberg 2000–2010 (Swedish-speaking)
Martti A. Siimes 1999–2006
Hans Åkerblom 1985–1998 (Swedish-speaking)
Jaakko Perheentupa 1984–1999
Ole Wasz-Höckert 1971–1985 (Swedish-speaking)
Bernhard Landtman 1961–1979
Niilo Hallman 1956–1983
Carl-Eric Räihä 1950–1971 (Swedish-speaking)
Arvo Ylppö 1922–1957
Wilhelm Pipping 1892–1923
In addition, the following associate professors: Jarmo Visakorpi, Jaakko Perheentupa, Martti A. Siimes

Professor of perinatal medicine

Kari Raivio 1982–2003

Professors/associate professors of pediatric infectious diseases

Harri Saxén 2013–
Heikki Peltola 1993–1999 (ass. prof.), 1999–2011
Timo Vesikari 1985–1991
Ossi Pettay 1964–1983

Professor of clinical medical researcher education

Markku Heikinheimo 2006–2010

Professor of neonatology

Sture Andersson 2011–

Professors of pediatric surgery (the post was established in 1992)

Risto Rintala 1998–
Ilmo Louhimo 1987–1993 (ass. prof.), 1993–1996

Professors of pediatric neurology (the post was established in 1988)

Leena Haataja 2015-
Helena Pihko 2011–2014
Lennart von Wendt 2002–2009
Matti Iivanainen 1991–2000

Professors of pediatric psychiatry (the post was established in 1973)

Eeva Aronen 2013–
Fredrik Almqvist 1989–2010
Terttu Arajärvi 1974–1987

Professor of medical stem cell research

Timo Otonkoski 2010–

Niilo Hallman Professor of translational pediatrics

Taneli Raivio 2013–

Sigrid Jusélius Professor of pediatric endocrinology

Outi Mäkitie 2015–