Introducing Research Director Annakaisa Haapasalo

Introducing Research Director Annakaisa Haapasalo

Research Director Annakaisa Haapasalo leads the Molecular Neurodegeneration Research Group at the A.I. Virtanen Institute of the University of Eastern Finland. The research group conducts research on disease mechanisms and biomarkers of early onset neurodegenerative diseases, especially frontotemporal dementia. “We study the genetic background and disease mechanisms of frontotemporal dementia, particularly using patient-derived disease models, and clinical samples and data,” describes Annakaisa of her research group’s core competencies. 

The research group’s most recent studies have produced new data on the effects of the most common genetic cause of frontotemporal dementia, the C9orf72 repeat expansion, on neuronal synapses, as well as microglial cells. In addition, their studies have described pathological and functional changes in patients’ skin cells, identified blood-based biomarkers for the differential diagnostics of frontotemporal dementia, and found a new genetic marker for the identification of carriers of the C9orf72 repeat expansion in large population-based genetic datasets. The group’s research is funded by e.g. Academy of Finland and Sigrid Jusélius Foundation. Funding has also been received from several other Finnish foundations. 

Annakaisa also leads the SynaDeg project coordinated by the University of Eastern Finland. This international project, which began in early 2022, was awarded the prestigious EU JPND research funding. The project combines clinical and basic research and brings new insights into the clinical features and disease mechanisms related to early synaptic dysfunction in frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The project aims to identify new disease-specific biological and physiological biomarkers, as well as generate tools for early diagnostics and treatment. The information obtained can be utilized in applications of personalized medicine. The SynaDeg project involves researchers of early onset memory diseases from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Oulu. The other collaborating partners are top European researchers and research groups in the field of neurodegeneration. “The project will strengthen regional, Finnish and international neuroscience research cooperation,” summarizes Annakaisa. 

The Molecular Neurodegeneration Research Group is involved in the National FinFTD Research Network. Activities within the network promote collaboration between researchers of frontotemporal dementia and related disorders. The group is also part of the Neuroscience Research Community of the University of Eastern Finland (Neuro-RC). In addition, Annakaisa has been involved in the AlzTrans pilot project of the Neurocenter Finland and actively participated to the activities of Kuopio Brain & Mind.  

More information:   

Molecular Neurodegeneration research group:   

FinFTD – Finnish FTD Research Network: