Prof. Saarma is internationally know neuroscientist working as the professor of biotechnology at the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki. In years 1990-2007 he was the director of the Institute of Biotechnology and in years 2008-2009 director of the Biocenter Finland. He has received several science prizes, including the Lundbeck Nordic Science Prize in 2009. He is the member of Estonian and Finnish Academy of Science, member of the EMBO council and Vice President of European Research Council. Prof. Saarma is one of the most cited Estonian scientists with almost 300 publications and over 16,000s citations.
The research group of Prof. Saarma is investigating structure, biology and therapeutic potential of neurotrophic factors. They study GDNF family neurotrophic factors and their receptors in develeopment and Parkinson’s disease. They have discovered that RET is the GDNF receptor and more recenly they have found that syndecan 3 can function as the alternative GDNF receptor. Currently they have developed GDNF and its receptor GFRa1 conditional knockout mice and investigating the role of GDNF in dopamine neurons that degenerate in Parkinson’s disease.
Few years ago Prof. Saarma’s group discovered a new neurotrophic factor CDNF and demonstrated that this factor can protect and repair dopamine neurons in animal models of Parkinson’s disease. They have found that CDNF and related protein MANF represent a new group of neurotrophic factors with unique structure and mode of action. Since CDNF and MANF are most potent neurorestorative proteins in animal models of Parkinson’s disease they are very attractive therapeutic candidates.
Prof. Mart Saarma is an inventor in 15 patent families, holds several patents and affiliate licenses with both domestic and foreign pharmaceutical companies.