Collegium Researcher Jetro Tuulari, Adjunct Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, is a Principal Investigator of the FinnBrain Neuroimaging lab. As a young student from Lapua, he ended up in the Turku University Faculty of Medicine by chance.
“I have always been interested in the brain and mind. When I was studying the nervous system and the brain and neurology at medical school, I was immersed in those books. My mother was a kindergarten teacher and my father a psychologist and I am now studying the developing brain, which is actually a hybrid of their professional backgrounds.”
During his studies, Jetro was involved in a project to renew learning material, which used eye movement methods to study the reading of learning materials with the aim of becoming a learning researcher. However, as no suitable topic and supervisor was found in this field for the dissertation, he ended up with brain imaging. He wrote his dissertation at the PET Center under the supervision of Lauri Nummenmaa and Pirjo Nuutila on the effects of obesity surgery on brain structure and function.
Direction of the future becomes clearer
During the dissertation, the young researcher pondered what he would like to do in the future and after listening to presentations by prestiged neuroscientists on a conference trip, he became enthusiastic about researching the developing brain.
“On my first conference trip in 2013, I started thinking about what I would like to do in the future. During the trip, I learned about developing brain research in general and, for the first time, about brain network modeling. I figured I wanted to study genes and brain imaging associated with brain development. The following year, I noticed that such a research group was already working in Turku.”
As soon as the dissertation was completed, Jetro started working on a FinnBrain cohort study. He participated in functional brain imaging of infants and showed that gentle stroking activated the emotional areas of the brain soon after birth. At Oxford University, Jetro was on a two-year post-doc visit to learn the methods of functional magnetic resonance imaging and brain network modeling.
Imaging the brains of young children is not easy, because in magnetic resonance imaging the subject must stay completely still to provide good quality material. Even in world scale, FinnBrain research team has unique data on brain imaging of children aged 0-5 years. Thus, FinnBrain was involved in a large consortium project, which resulted in the publication of brain growth curves in the prestigious journal Nature this spring (http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04554-y).
Advanced Studies Supervisor of the Year, pedagogue
Jetro is also an experienced teacher and student instructor. Already during his medical studies, he worked as a study supervisor at the Faculty of Medicine. He is involved in ten dissertations as a supervisor and in 2021, he was given the Advanced Studies Supervisor of the Year award by the Federation of Associations of Students of Medicine.
“The recognition from the students was a really pleasant, positive surprise. It encourages further improvement in teaching and guidance skills.”
Jetro designed the imaging method study unit for the master’s degree programme in Human Neuroscience, which began in 2018 at the Turku Brain & Mind Center, and taught the first course.
“I got to design the imaging method section for master’s degree programme and it’s one of the nicest things I’ve had a chance to do in the field of education.”
Ongoing in the FinnBrain research project is a 9-year measurement point focusing on measuring the electrical activity of the brain using the EEG method for brain imaging. FinnBrain is also part of the Academy of Finland’s Interlearn Center of Excellence for Learning and Learning Interventions. Jetro is responsible for the brain imaging part in this consortium. The aim is to collect data using the most harmonized methods possible. The data will be collected in the Jyväskylä and Turku regions in the next few years.
In addition to the FinnBrain data, Jetro is studying brain changes in obesity and risk of obesity through population neuroscience methods combining epidemiology, genetics and brain imaging. The project uses data from the American ABCD study.
As to the future, Jetro hopes for improvements in the availability of brain image data for research use. He says that a brain image bank similar to the UK biobank would be needed in Finland, which would make Finnish brain image data and health data available to researchers at the national level. For brain image data, national agreements should also be reached on which imaging material is classified as sensitive. For example, is a mere brain image with no face or bony structures classified as sensitive data.
So it’s great that Jetro’s road led to Turku. As a researcher, he feels that Turku is a good place to do brain research.
“It is good to be a brain researcher in Turku, because here, the infrastructure and other conditions for doing research are good.”