The Teaming centres of excellence in digitalised bioengineering and personalised medicine at the University of Tartu are expected to become lighthouses in the region, attracting the best scientists and bringing change to the innovation landscape nationally and internationally.
Implementing the projects, which officially started work in Tartu on 1 September, is a great honour and also a responsibility for the University of Tartu. “As the Estonian national university, the University of Tartu carries the responsibility of addressing society's grand challenges and driving the knowledge-based society. The university contributes to sustainable development goals and tackles societal issues, including those related to public health and the green transition,” said the Rector of the university Toomas Asser at the projects’ kick-off event on 11 September. The Teaming centres of excellence are significant in fulfilling both national and international aims.
On the one hand, they will facilitate a leap forward in developing the research field of digitalised bioengineering and personalised medicine by creating fantastic career opportunities for internationally competitive young researchers. On the other hand, these centres are expected to help create new technologies and research-intensive start-ups and have an excellent spillover effect on the region.
Large-scale interdisciplinary cooperation
The Estonian Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas emphasised that Estonia has much work to do to bridge the gap between research results and putting them into practical use. “I hope these centres can put one and one together and get three. I fully support the ambition of large-scale interdisciplinary and international cooperation to make up a new combination of different fields and partners. Some have not cooperated before and will get much added value as a result,” said Kallas.
There are high expectations that the centres of excellence will be much more than just projects. Signe Ratso, Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission, said that the Widening measures have had a positive effect both on reforming the R&D systems of the Widening countries and making Europe stronger as a whole. “Our recent analyses indicate that half of the previous Teaming centres of excellence have influenced national legislation, national R&I strategies or funding initiatives. These scientific excellences have been impactful in increasing links between European and international research institutions,” said Ratso, stating that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for making the best out of the centres of excellence. Instead, each centre works best when adjusting to the needs of the scientific discipline in a parent organisation but also of the country or region. Ratso encouraged the university to support the two new Teaming centres of excellence in finding the best way to make them sustainable even after the initial starting period.
International influence in health care and green transition
Stefan Weiers, Head of Sector at the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission, mentioned that the Estonian Teaming projects can significantly influence European research missions. TeamPerMed, as an interdisciplinary consortium, has the full chain of research from the basic science on a molecular level to the practical solutions for clinical medicine. “It could have great importance for the cancer mission of the European Commission framework programme,” said Weiers. The other project, DigiBio, is highly valued thanks to its significant industrial potential through bringing together big data, high-performance computing and bioengineering.
Weiers also mentioned that the Teaming projects have the potential to push forward the host country in general on the R&I landscape. “Estonia is already the best student in the class of Widening countries and catching up with the advanced countries. But the situation is still quite fragile. The two Teaming projects will contribute a lot to help to keep this good position and enable to do even better in the coming years,” said Weiers.
The Centre for Digital Bioengineering and the Research and Development Centre for Personalised Medicine received Estonia's largest research funding at the beginning of this year. The six-year projects are funded by the European Commission and the Estonian state with a total of €60 million. The European Commission supports the projects from the Teaming for Excellence action under the research and innovation funding programme Horizon Europe. The programme supports collaborative projects between European research institutions to deliver cutting-edge research and better integrate it into society and the economy.
This article was first published 13 September 2023 by University of Tartu.