The key to much of biology today is understanding the form and function of macromolecules at the atomic level - this is the realm of structural biology and requires integration of macromolecular structural and macromolecular functional analysis. To exploit such knowledge requires being able to recognize important target molecules, interactions between molecules, and to establish relationships between existing sources of biological knowledge - this is the realm of informational biology. The disciplines overlap synergistically in the design and improvement of, for instance, novel inhibitors as potential pharmaceuticals. In such cases, one needs to know which portions of the molecules are important to structure, which to function and how these are integrated. It is our aim here to establish a graduate school network within Finland that integrates these two pivotal areas: informational and structural biology.
The National Graduate School in Informational and Structural Biology (ISB) was established at the end of 1997 (with funding provided by the Ministry of Education, the Academy of Finland and Åbo Akademi University) in response to the demands of the 1996 EMBO evaluation of Biotechnology in Finland to raise competence in structural biology, bioinformatics and biophysics. The school was rated "excellent" after the first year when reviewed by the Academy of Finland in late 1998; the school was rated excellent again in the year 2001 and 2002! This graduate school provides intensive research training in multidisciplinary problem solving through collaborative research. Our research spans a wide variety of experimental and computer-based methods to probe complex biological systems at the molecular level. We have strong experience in structural biology, informatics (bioinformatics), biophysical chemistry, systems biology, molecular biology and biochemistry.
ISB is currently training 76 doctoral students (25 funded by the Ministry of Education and the rest from other funding sources) from 11 universities and institutes. The school has a director, coordinator and a 13-member board (supervisors, industrial supervisors, students) and is coordinated from Åbo Akademi University, Turku. Participants include 45 supervisors, 12 postdocs and senior scientists, and 7 industrial participants distributed across Finland. A number of our students work in industry, some abroad, while earning their degree.
The school focuses on collaborative, multidisciplinary training in the overlapping fields of structural biology, bioinformatics, biophysics, biochemistry, cell biology, systems biology and computational chemistry and published 299 articles including 277 international peer-reviewed articles 2006-2007. Research exploits both computational and experimental approaches. ISB hosts the ISB Winter School (oral/poster reports of research results) and the ISB Spring School (career development, ethics, oral and written presentation skills, and research strategies; organized by students) each year, plus 8 or more courses, workshops and symposia funded and organized by our members and/or together with other graduate schools. Our students are supported by ISB to customize their own training and education especially through research visits, international courses, workshops and symposia. The excellent training of our 51 graduates (14 doctorates were earned in 2006-2007, averaging 50.5 months; range 13-68 months) has ensured them of employment in academia, government, hospitals and industry.
This graduate school consists of a national network of 37 research groups from eleven academic institutions (Åbo Akademi University, Biomedicum Helsinki, Center for Scientific Computing, Lappenranta University of Technology, University of Helsinki, University of Joensuu, University of Jyväskylä, University of Kuopio, University of Oulu, University of Tampere, University of Turku and VTT) and nine collaborating biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies: Arctic Diagnostics, BioTie Therapies Corporation, FBD Ltd., IBM Corporation, Orion Corporation, Perkin Elmer Life Science, QuatRx Pharmaceuticals and Vivoxid Ltd.
Åbo Akademi University is centrally responsible for the school, but our research network is based on the common interests shared by the research groups at the different institutions. Each of the research groups collaborates with one or more of the other members of the school, sharing expensive instrumentation and expertise within the network; many of our participants have research projects funded within the joint Academy of Finland - TEKES research programs. During the past three years this network has led directly to increased interactions between groups with established collaborations and to the start of new collaborative research with other research groups. The research training and educational experience of our students covers the breadth of our combined experiences.
Areas of expertise brought together by the aforementioned research groups within this graduate school: