Senior Sanger Institute researcher honoured

Professor Leena Peltonen receives honorary title of Academician of Science

Professor Leena Peltonen, Head of Human Genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, has been awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science, the highest scientific honour in Finland. The letter of appointment was presented to Professor Peltonen by Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland.

Based on nominations by the Academy of Finland, the President confers the honorary title of Academician to highly distinguished Finnish or international scientists and scholars. The title of Academician can be held by no more than twelve Finnish scientists and scholars at a time.

Leena is one of the world’s foremost and most respected experts in gene research. She has conducted pioneering work in the field of human gene research, with special focus on disease genes. Her research serves as an excellent example of how basic molecular biology can be combined with medicine to gain a better understanding of diseases, and her results have shed valuable new light on the basic mechanisms of human disease.

The field of human genetics has advanced at an extraordinary rate. Rather than studying individual genes, the focus has expanded now to include the impact of the individual’s complete genome information on disease aetiology. The information gained from this research is used to help prevent diseases and produce new methods for care and prevention.

“I have been extremely fortunate to be involved in this process from its very earliest stages. I have been in the right place at historically the right time.”

Professor Leena Peltonen Head of Human Genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute​

In her research Leena has exploited Finnish genotype and population datasets to identify genetic variants associated with dyslipidaemias, lactose intolerance, MS, schizophrenia, obesity and heart diseases. The team have also established how these mutations mechanistically lead to the actual onset of disease. Their efforts have paved the way for new diagnostic tests and screening methods.

“It’s not only our national gene pool that is unique in providing technical short cuts in disease gene identification, the same can be said of our national health care records that span decades, our biological sample collections and above all the altruistic willingness of Finnish people to take part in our studies.”

Professor Leena Peltonen Sanger Institute​

Leena has held several professorships and significant positions at research organisations across the world. She was a Professor at the Finnish National Public Health Institute from 1991 to 1994 and at the National Public Health Institute and the University of Helsinki from 1995 to 1998 and again from 2002 to 2003. In 1998 she moved to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to establish a major genetic research centre. After seven years in the United States, she was invited to become Head of Human Genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Europe’s leading genome research centre.

“Leena’s research has made a remarkable impact on how we understand, diagnose and, potentially, how we will treat common human genetic diseases. She is fully deserving of this honour which recognises her outstanding contribution in the field. We are privileged to have one of the most prolific and respected human geneticists in the world among our ranks here at the Sanger Institute.”

Professor Allan Bradley Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

In addition to her work at the Sanger Institute in the UK, Leena is currently Research Director at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and at the National Institute for Health and Welfare as well as Visiting Professor at Broad Institute, Boston. She is also a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC) and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine.

Leena chaired the Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Health from 1995 to 1997, served as Academy Professor from 2003 to 2007 and was Director of the Centre of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics from 2000 to 2007. She has been extraordinarily productive in terms of her scientific output. Furthermore, she has played a pivotal role in training a new generation of gene researchers in Finland and the United States. She has received numerous prestigious science awards and holds several titles of Honorary Doctor and Honorary Professor.​

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Selected websites

  • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.

  • The Wellcome Trust

    The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.