ESFRI - European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures - was established in April 2002 to produce a "European Roadmap on Research Infrastructures" for European Union. Finnish scientists have been actively involved in planning and construction of nine BMS (Biological and Medical Sciences) research infrastructures on the ESFRI Roadmaps 2006, 2008 and 2010. They have participated in drafting of operational concepts of such infrastructures, their business plans and statutes during the European Commission -funded preparatory phase of these BMS infrastructures. One indicator of major Finnish participation in the BMS ESFRI infrastructures is that national nodes / centers of seven of them were included in the updated national infrastructure roadmap in 2013. BF scientists and technology platforms are involved in all seven:
- BBMRI-ERIC (Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure)
- EATRIS-ERIC (European Advanced Translational Research Infrastructure)
- ELIXIR (European Life Science Infrastructure for Biological Information)
- EU-Openscreen (European Infrastructure of Open Screening Platforms for Chemical Biology)
- Euro-BioImaging (European Biomedical Imaging Infrastructure)
- Infrafrontier (European Infrastructure for Phenotyping and Archiving of Model Organisms)
- Instruct (An Integrated Structural Biology Infrastructure for Europe) - Instruct-FI
A typical feature of all BMS research infrastructures is their distributed structure into different operational sites in participating member states. The distributed nature of BMS infrastructures requires member states to organise their national nodes or centers to build a proper interface with the pan-European ESFRI projects.
BF scientists active in ESFRI projects
In Finland the existence of BF infrastructure networks has provided a ready-made solution for the national nodes and user communities for most of the seven BMS infrastructures on the Finnish roadmap. The research community is already well organized, has an updated inventory of equipment, samples and services at hand, and is therefore well prepared to enter the large European research infrastructures. In some fields the BF infrastructure networks correspond almost exactly to ESFRI projects, e.g. in biological imaging (Euro-BioImaging), structural biology (Instruct-FI), mouse biology and model organisms (Infrafrontier) and chemical biology (EU-Openscreen). In the field of bioinformatics (ELIXIR) BF network is involved, but national coordination occurs via CSC. In biobanking and translational research, BF infrastructure networks are involved in the corresponding ESFRI infrastructures BBMRI and EATRIS. In all cases, BF scientists have participated in the preparation of concrete operational plans for the ESFRI projects to guarantee that their voice is heard in Europe when important long term decisions regarding standardization of technologies, operating procedures, guidelines, access policies and other rules are made.
BF and its infrastructure networks are willing to support this process and to function as national level structures for ESFRI projects during their construction phase. The goals of ESFRI and BF are very similar, provision of access to world-class research facilities and to overcome fragmentation of the BMS research landscape. In the future, BF and the national ESFRI nodes need to work hard to clarify their roles both locally and nationally so that a balanced development of life science research infrastructure can be reached in the upcoming years.
Biocenter Finland International visitor program
To help the recruitment of international students and postdocs into Finnish graduate schools and biocenters, Biocenter Finland initiated an experimental visitor program in 2010. The start-up program was designed to support short (6 month - 1 year) visits of prospective doctoral trainees from abroad who are interested in conducting research in Finnish Biocenters and in obtaining a doctoral degree in Finnish Biocenter Universities. Funding was also available for short visits of postdoctoral scientists into research groups in Finnish Biocenters.
The program turned out to be a success and was repeated and enlargened in 2011. BF partner biocenters recruited altogether a total of 28 prospective doctoral trainees and 32 postdocs to Finnish biocenter universities. These 60 internationally mobile doctoral students and postdocs moved to Finland from 12 European and 14 non-European countries being citizens of 29 different countries (14 European and 15 non-European). These statistics clearly indicate that Finnish biocenters can offer internationally competitive working environments that attract doctoral trainees and postdocs form East, South and West. Even more encouraging is the fact that 45 of the 60 visitors continued their career in Finland through other funding.
Promotion of international research career development
Through its research career development funds Biocenter Finland has supported recruitment of scientists living abroad to bring expertise in novel technologies to Finland in key areas where gaps in expertise currently exist. The call for this program was opened in summer 2010 and funding was provided to ten scientists.
Building scientific collaboration between Finnish biocenters and selected Chinese Universities and Research Institutes has been one of the key components in the attempts of Biocenter Finland to promote internationalization of Finnish biosciences. The collaboration is based on the activities of Graduate Program in Biotechnology and Molecular Biology (GPMB), University of Helsinki and Biocentrum Helsinki in China. In 2008, this collaboration was broadened to cover all Finnish biocenters, i.e Biocenter Finland and Sino-Finn Life Science Forum was launched aiming to encourage high standard research and research training collaboration in life sciences between China and Finland. Sino-Finn Forums have been organised three times in China (in 2008, 2010 and 2012, with Wuhan University, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences (SIBS) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Suchou University) and two times in Finland (2009, 2011).
In 2010-2012 Biocenter Finland has also supported Graduate Program in Biotechnology and Molecular Biology (GPBM) in organizing Sino-Finn Summer School for Chinese students.
Agreement of academic cooperation between University of Helsinki and University of Wuhan
University of Helsinki and University of Wuhan have had an agreement of cooperation since 2003. In September 2011 University of Helsinki and University of Wuhan agreed to further strengthen their scientific and educational exchange and research collaboration in life sciences. Biocenter Finland was cosignatory to this agreement thus extending the academic collaboration agreement to cover other member biocenters, too.