Computational Medicine Research Team

Key Institutions

The Computational Medicine Research Team is homed at five institutions in three countries in two continents. Dr Mika Ala-Korpela is leading a Systems Epidemiology Laboratory at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. He is also holding a Professorship in Computational Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Finland (2009-) and at the Bristol Medical School & the Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU), University of Bristol, UK (2013-). He has also been appointed as a Professor of NMR Analytics at the University of Eastern Finland, Faculty of Health Sciences, Kuopio, Finland (2018-). He is holding an adjunct Research Professor position in Systems Epidemiology at the Alfred Hospital, Monash University, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences in Melbourne, Australia.

Dr Johannes Kettunen, Head of Genetics, is an Associate Professor in Genetics at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Finland (2014-).

In Oulu we focus on statistical epidemiology of large-scale multiomics population data. Our NMR metabolomics laboratory in Finland is situated in Kuopio, at the University of Eastern Finland. In Kuopio we focus on the experimental NMR analyses of urine and other biological samples as well as advanced spectral analysis. Collaboration with IEU, a large alliance of research excellence at the University of Bristol, led by Professor George Davey Smith, is bringing in a wide variety of expertise in systems epidemiology. We also have a Metabolomics Core Facility at the University of Bristol where we focus on quantitative serum and urine NMR metabolomics. The recent tight link to the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, partly funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, will bring in state-of-the-art mass spectrometry lipidomics into to omics repertoire of the Team.

Research Focus

The Computational Medicine Research Team takes a life-course systems epidemiology approach on understanding cardiometabolic health and disease aetiology. We are focusing on systemic metabolism, multi-parametric data analysis methods, metabolic phenotyping as well as risk assessment. We are taking advantage of various 'omics technologies and data in building up new knowledge on cardiometabolic health and disease.

We have pioneered the development and applications of quantitative high-throughput serum NMR metabolomics in molecular epidemiology and genetics via a novel serum NMR metabolomics platform originally developed by the Team in Finland. This methodology has now been used to analyse over 500,000 blood specimens and the methodology has been commercialised. The Team has recently launched a novel open access high-throughput quantitative urine NMR metabolomics platform in collaboration with researchers at the Imperial College London, University of Oxford and University of Bristol, UK. Extensive collaboration has been set up with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute to integrate mass spectrometry lipidomics into large-scale epidemiology and genetics.

Cardiometabolic diseases - coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes - are the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Key challenges to tackle these diseases include:

  1. Understanding of the complex molecular pathways in disease development.
  2. Clarifying the causal relationships of biomarkers.
  3. Determining opportunities for prevention.

Causality is fundamental for the efficacy of interventions; lifestyle and/or drug treatments directed at non-causal targets will not be effective.

While observational study designs are key to identifying associations between putative risk factors and disease, they cannot provide reliable evidence on causality owing to biases from confounding and reverse causality. The recent explosion and availability of genetic data via genome-wide analysis studies (GWASs) has provided means to assess causality via Mendelian randomisation making it a leading method in systems epidemiology.

Circulating biomarkers, including lipoprotein particles and the accompanying lipid molecules, represent key pathways for cardiometabolic diseases. Consequently metabolomics and lipidomics - via simultaneous analysis of large numbers of circulating biomarkers across multiple pathways - provide innovative opportunities to understand cardiometabolic processes in more detail. With appropriate study designs and large-scale data there are novel opportunities to find new causal molecular components that could provide new targets for interventions and disease prevention.

Our research on cardiometabolic health and diseases focuses on two broad areas: epidemiology, genetics and causal inference of large-scale blood-based metabolomics and development and systems epidemiology applications of new metabolomics methods and platforms. Our established and expanding collaborative network is comprehensive and aims for global population coverage and life-course understanding of systemic health and disease aetiologies. Various collaborations are resulting in an unprecedented amount of coherent quantitative molecular data on cardiometabolic health and diseases and will allow tackling key research questions and very large-scale analyses not otherwise feasible.

Funding & Support

Our work has been supported by the Academy of Finland, TEKES - the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, the Orion-Farmos Research Foundation, the Finnish Diabetes Research Foundation, Instrumentarium Science Foundation, the Finnish Cardiovascular Research Foundation, the Paulo Foundation, the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation, the Paavo Nurmi Foundation, and the strategic and infrastructural research funding from the University of Oulu, Finland. The Team is also part of the Biocenter Oulu. In addition, our current endeavours towards large-scale systems epidemiology are funded by the British Heart Foundation, the UK Wellcome Trust, and the UK Medical Research Council and the University of Bristol via the Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU), the US NIH and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia.