Vaccine researcher sees the good things that are coming

Research work has been a calling for Mika Rämet, and for a long time it did not feel like work at all. The immunology expert got into neonatal medicine already during his studies, inspired by Professor of Paediatrics Mikko Hallman.
Mika Rämet
Mika Rämet is the Alumn of the Year 2023.

Neonatal medicine is somatic medicine at its best

In upper secondary school, Mika Rämet still thought that he would become a social scientist.

"My mother was a principal at a lower secondary school and a teacher of social studies. My plans were to start studying political science and political history in Tampere. However, I wanted to stay in Oulu, so I chose to study medicine," recalls Rämet who is originally from Lintula. He was named the University of Oulu Alumnus of the Year.

Nowadays, Rämet is working as the Chief Medical Officer of Finnish Vaccine Research (FVR), but back then he considered medical studies as general education for a wide range of tasks, and they have proved to be such.

"Different clinical fields are very different, so medical education offers enormous number of opportunities. I started doing my own research in the second year of my studies. I completed my doctoral dissertation on cancer mechanisms at the University of Oulu’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, but after that I started focusing on neonatology, i.e., neonatal care. As a medical field, it is truly extensive and fascinating, somatic medicine at its purest. Of course, working with critically ill babies is difficult from time to time.”

The career of a researcher did not feel like work

Professor of Paediatrics and Paediatrician Mikko Hallman has been Rämet's long-term mentor.

"In the 1980s, Mikko led a research project whose results have had a dramatic impact on the reduction of the mortality of prematurely born infants. Due to undeveloped pulmonary alveoli, premature infants often experience life-threatening breathing difficulties. Mikko showed that the disease can be treated with a surfactant that lowers the surface tension of the alveoli. During my postdoctoral term, Mikko's research group had a major impact on my research career.”

The career in research was a clear calling for Rämet.

"It took me with it. For a long time, it didn't feel like work at all, it was just really fun.”

Rämet graduated as a Licentiate of Medicine in 1996 and as a Doctor of Medicine in 1998. Approximately halfway through his specialisation as a paediatrician, he moved to work at Harvard University for three years in 1999.

"It was a very stimulating environment, and I was able to focus on doing my research in peace. My publishing demonstrations from that time were good, and they opened a lot of opportunities. I returned to Oulu for another year, but then I was given the opportunity to set up my own research group at the University of Tampere in 2003. After 12 years, I returned to the University of Oulu as a Professor of Peediatrics, to the position Mikko Hallman had previously held. Soon after that, I was also elected Director of the PEDEGO research unit.”

Tampere called again in 2020 when Rämet was elected Director of the University of Tampere Vaccine Research Centre.

The pandemic made me look at the world through new eyes

Immunity, both natural and acquired, has long been the topic of Rämet's research and his passion project. The main objective has been to develop a better tuberculosis vaccine.

"Tuberculosis, malaria and HIV are among the world's biggest health challenges. That is why tuberculosis has become one of the main topics of my research work.”

The coronavirus pandemic turned the whole world's eyes to vaccine researchers. The recently chosen Director of the Vaccine Research Centre received invitations to talk on television and the audience was delighted with his calm way of explaining things in plain language and practical manner. Rämet received the University of Tampere's Social Impact Award and the Hyvän tiedon omena award granted by health journalists in 2022.

Coronavirus also made vaccine researchers look at the world through new eyes. He doesn't think there will be similar exceptional times ahead.

"I do not believe that the same kind of global chaos would happen that would involve closing down schools and societies. If similar threats arise, preparedness is now better. We now have mRNA vaccine technology, so the development and manufacture of the necessary vaccine would be faster.

Societal influencer at many levels

The work of a vaccine researcher looks into the future.

"Vaccines are challenging in that their adverse effects are concrete, but the benefits are abstract. The best part of my work is that I can see where the world is going. I see the kind of good things that are coming.”

It cannot be argued that the work of a vaccine researcher would not also be societal influencing in this respect, which means that you could say that the circle has closed for Rämet. Newborn mortality in Finland is among the lowest in the world. According to the paediatrician, this is a good overview of how well our society works.

"For example, the maternity clinic system is very equal to everyone, as is the treatment of births and newborns.”

Rämet strives to influence society not only in science but also at the grassroots level. In the parliamentary elections of spring 2023, Rämet was nominated as a member of the Green Party.

"The interest in social issues is also reflected in it, as is the willingness to help those in a disadvantaged position.”

Mika Rämet

  • Professor, University of Tampere, Experimental Immunology 2008–
  • FVR - Finnish Vaccine Research, Chief Medical Officer 2022–2024
  • Tampere University Vaccine Research Centre, Director 2020–2022
  • University of Oulu, Professor of Paediatrics 2014–2020
  • University of Oulu, PEDEGO Research Unit, Director 2015–2020
  • Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Tampere 2003–2014
  • Academy Research Fellow, 2004–2009
  • Harvard Medical School, Postdoctoral Researcher, 1999–2002
  • Researcher of the Year 2021, clinical trial professionals
  • University of Tampere Social Impact Award for Promoting Vaccine Knowledge 2022
  • Hyvän tiedon omena award granted by health journalists in 2022
  • University of Oulu Alumn of the Year 2023