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UEF secures significant EC funding to study effects of traffic related ultrafine particles on brain health


The European Commission has provided over 5 million euros of funding for the Horizon 2020 research project Transport derived Ultrafines and the Brain Effects (TUBE), coordinated by the University of Eastern Finland, to study the effects of smallest traffic related ultrafine- or nanoparticles on brain health. The coordinator of the project is Associate Prof. Pasi Jalava (Dept. of Environmental and Biological Sciences). Associate Prof. Katja Kanninen and Associate Prof. Tarja Malm (A.I.Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences) are project partners at the UEF.

Air pollutants have been shown to cause a vast amount of different adverse health effects. These effects include impairment of respiratory and cardiovascular function. However, in recent years, the evidence showing effects beyond the lungs and circulatory system are becoming more evident. Neurological diseases, namely Alzheimer ́s disease (AD) has shown to be associated with living near traffic. However, the reason for this has remained unresolved. AD is the most common neurodegenerative disease and the main cause of dementia in the elderly, affecting 47 million people worldwide. Beyond societal impact, the financial cost of dementia alone is estimated to be 130 billion EUR per annum in Europe. However, despite the fact that air pollution and brain disease are linked, the effects of the extremely fine particles on brain function have been insufficiently assessed. In addition, the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the connection between brain health, AD, and air pollution remain completely unknown. While the association of air pollutants with cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as AD has been discussed, it has also remained unclear, which components of air pollution are responsible for these effects. Moreover, very little is known about the effects of extremely fine particles as well of (S)VOCs from combustion engines, especially regarding effects beyond the lung, the main entrance and primary target organ.

The TUBE consortium aims on revealing the mechanisms involved in air pollutant exposures in neurological diseases. TUBE brings together a strong consortium of eight (8) academic and three (3) industrial partners, as well as four (4) research organizations from 8 European countries, China and Chile, including experts in areas of aerosol technology, emission research, engine and fuel research, human clinical studies, epidemiology, emission inventories, inhalation toxicology, neuroscience, neurotoxicology and disease mechanism studies. This enables a unique, highly innovative and truly transdisciplinary approach for research on the effects of nanoparticles from different traffic modes for both air quality and concomitant toxic effects of these air pollutants. Understanding the movement and clearance of particles in the brain will allow future therapeutic targeting of the affected pathways, thus potentially reducing adverse health effects associated with traffic related air pollutants.

There is an urgent need to understand the interplay of pollutants with adverse effects in the brain, in order to steer political decision making for efficient reduction of air pollutants, which could, in the long run, reduce the economic burden caused by diseases associated with them. Leaning on the transdisciplinary approach and state of the art research methodologies in the project, TUBE will discover the harmful components of air pollution and identify biomarkers for the early detection of brain disease related to air pollution. This will improve brain health, reduce the prevalence of the brain diseases, provide significant economical savings, and provide data that will be used to support planning future traffic policy across the EU.

 The project is expected to lead to novel and extremely important findings to mitigate the harmful exposures to human health.

For further information, please contact:

  • Assoc. Prof. Pasi Jalava, Dept. of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Inhalation toxicology group, pasi.jalava@uef.fi
  • Assoc. Prof. Katja Kanninen, A.I.V.-Institute, Neurobiology of disease group, katja.kanninen@uef.fi
  • Assoc. Prof. Tarja Malm, A.I.V.-Institute, Neuroinflammation research group, tarja.malm@uef.fi

This release was first published 23 May 2019 by the University of Eastern Finland.

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