Forging collaborations across the Nordics: the 2023 annual meeting of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine

Finnish Nordic EMBL partner node, FIMM, hosts the 12th annual Nordic EMBL Partnership meeting in Helsinki between 11-14 September

Group photo of the participants of the 12th annual meeting of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine in Espoo, Finland. Photo by Jouko Siro.
Group photo of the participants of the 12th annual meeting of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine in Espoo, Finland. Photo by Jouko Siro.
FIMM Director Samuli Ripatti on the benefits of the Nordic EMBL Partnership. Video by Dorota Badowska, EMBL. Watch it on You Tube:
Ewan Birney (EMBL) on the synergies in the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine. Video by Dorota Badowska, EMBL. Watch it on You Tube:
Johanna Lehtonen (NCMM) on the value of international exchange for young scientists in the Nordics. Video by Dorota Badowska, EMBL. Watch it on You Tube:
Anne-Marie Fors Connolly (MIMS) on the impact of the Nordic EMBL partnership on the clinics. Video by Dorota Badowska, EMBL. Watch it on You Tube:
DANDRITE Group Leader Thomas Dong Won Kim on value of collaboration in the Nordic EMBL Partnership. Video by Dorota Badowska, EMBL. Watch it on You Tube:

The annual meetings strategically connect Nordic- and EMBL-based researchers on a mutual basis. These events facilitate expansion of knowledge through scientific presentations and discussions during breaks, while also providing opportunities to broaden networks and spark future collaborations. 

“It’s great to host our friends in the Nordic countries here and from the rest of Europe as well, and hearing about the cutting edge research work that I think at the end of the meeting, we will go home and think about how to do things more together and how to utilise the novel information we got”, says Samuli Ripatti, Director of FIMM, the hosting node of this year’s Nordic EMBL Partnership meeting.


Nordic EMBL annual meetings boost connections for the benefit of science

Over 200 participants travelled just outside of Helsinki to Aalto University’s main building, Dipoli. The building’s organic architecture, once a radical design trend, set the ideal atmosphere for nurturing collaborations that will push the boundaries in addressing current challenges in molecular medicine.
Apart from members of the host node, FIMM (Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland), members of the other three nodes; DANDRITE (Danish Institute for Translational Neuroscience), MIMS (The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden), NCMM (Centre for Molecular Medicine Norway), and also EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) participated.

Over the course of the meeting, thirty Nordic EMBL Partnership, EMBL and guest scientists were asked to come to the podium to introduce their research to the audience. The meeting was opened by Professor Ewan Birney, Deputy Director General of EMBL and Director of EMBL-EBI. He addressed the current EMBL Programme “Molecules to Ecosystems”, aiming to understand ecosystems at the molecular level thus studying life in its natural context, and how well this resonates with the mission of the Nordic EMBL Partnership.

The scientific presentations were grouped into five sessions within the themes of ”I) EMBL and Nordic EMBL Partnership, II) Multi-omics and precision medicine, III) Data-driven approaches, IV) Advances in neuroscience, and V) Emerging imaging technologies”. In addition to the research presentations, the annual event provides a platform for the node Directors to deliver updates on the progress of each node to the broader community.

Introducing a fresh concept for the Partnership meeting this year, tandem talks showcased cutting-edge technologies that facilitate research collaborations across the nodes. These connections have been strongly supported by the fact that the Nordic EMBL Partnership has served as an Infrastructure Hub since 2021, when the Partnership was awarded funding from NordForsk to help increase knowledge transfer and interactions across the Partnership. Four examples highlighted successful cross-node collaborations on gut microbiota and metabolomics (MIMS-FIMM), long COVID (FIMM-MIMS), Zebrafish model for neurological diseases (DANDRITE-NCMM), and phenotyping rare neurological disease variants with high content analysis (NCMM-FIMM). 

The event programme also featured round table discussions, flash talks and poster sessions, forging connections among the participants at all levels. Around 70 scientific posters were presented during two interactive poster sessions.


Dedicated program for Young Investigators and Group Leaders

This year’s meeting featured two additional program components that took place just before the main meeting, 11-12 September. The 2023 Young Investigator Meeting (YIM) embraced “Sailing into the unknown: building bridges and forging collaborations”.

One of the organisers of the YIM meeting, Johanna Lehtonen from NCMM, says: “I think it is really important that we have these Young Investigator Meetings where we, young researchers, can meet and maybe find some future collaborations.”

The sessions encompassed creativity - led by Oana Velcu, science communication - by trainer Lea Urpa, and career development - guided by alumni from Nordic EMBL institutes, taking participants on a sailing journey across the high seas and land.

The second addition was the half-day Group Leader satellite workshop. Its primary emphasis was knowledge sharing and identification of new collaboration opportunities.

The group leader meeting, it is basically giving us an opportunity to network with each other, and it is also giving us practical advice regarding ERC funding and what are the career choices you need to make. So this is very helpful. What brings me here is the opportunity to network with a lot of people”, says Anne-Marie Fors Connolly, Clinical Research Fellow at MIMS.

Under the guidance of FIMM and DANDRITE Directors Samuli Ripatti and Poul Nissen, a session on peer-mentoring engaged Group Leaders in reflecting on their experiences, and drawing upon the experience and insights of ERC grant holders and present Directors. Another session explored joint funding possibilities for collaborative scientific projects, such as ERC Synergy grant and COFUND by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. 


Keynote speeches by world-leading scientists 

The 2023 meeting featured three keynote speakers. The opening keynote was held by Christopher E. Mason who is a Professor in Genomics, Physiology and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine and Director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction. His research helps to ameliorate human diseases and lays the foundation for long-term human survival on other planets. His presentation was titled “Multi-omic and immunological dynamics of blood from cancer patients to astronauts”.

Judith Zaugg was the next keynote speaker during the session “Data-driven approaches”. Dr Zaugg is head of the Systems Epigenetics group at EMBL-Heidelberg and co-head of the Stem Cell-Niche Networks group at Molecular Medicine Partnership Unit at Heidelberg University Hospital. Her research aims at understanding how cells integrate genetic information, epigenetic make-up, and extrinsic signals from their microenvironment. The title of her presentation was “How do cells integrate extrinsic signals and intrinsic state? A systems epigenetics approach with focus on immune cells.”.

The closing keynote was delivered by Olli Kallioniemi, Professor in Molecular Precision Medicine, Director of Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab), head of the Precision Cancer Medicine group at Karolinska Institutet. His research interest is in individualised systems medicine of cancer. His keynote titled “Technology- and data-driven life science at SciLifeLab: Implementation in molecular precision medicine”. 

Increasing collaborations will leverage the diverse strengths of the Nordic EMBL nodes

The annual Nordic EMBL Partnership Meeting serves as a highly anticipated event for members of the Nordic nodes and EMBL alike. It represents an important forum where colleagues come together, fostering new synergies and collaborative efforts to drive advancements in the field of molecular medicine.

Thomas Kim, who recently joined DANDRITE as new Group Leader emphasized: 

“... It’s been good to meet with the other group leaders, who are at different stages of their career, to get some quick advice. I'm getting a new idea of what to do and how to organise my lab. … I think collaboration, which is a theme for this year, is a good take-home message.”

“Many of the research projects presented during the meeting would not have been possible without Nordic collaborations. Our partnership is evolving, each node is involved in several research areas which drive today’s molecular medicine research forward. I see us collaborating more and more in these areas, using our complimentary strengths in different new ways, already exemplified in the ongoing tandem projects across the nodes”, concludes Oliver Billker, Speaker of the Nordic EMBL Partnership, Director of MIMS, at the closing of the event. 

The Nordic EMBL Partnership would like to thank the committees of the FIMM organisers, the main meeting- and YIM program for the fantastic conference, and also thank all speakers, session chairs and poster presenters.

We look forward to the 2024 meeting, which will be hosted by NCMM and will take place in Oslo.