History of research at the Children’s Hospital

The Children's Hospital was founded in 1893 to further university-level teaching in pediatrics. Before that, the treatment between children and adults was not separated. For many years, the 60-bed hospital operated in inadequate premises in Tehtaankatu street in Helsinki, and it was not until after the Second World War in 1946 that it could move to a new, bigger building in the Taka-Töölö neighborhood, where the number of beds was greatly multiplied. The improved conditions created the backdrop for a higher quality care, which resulted in a decrease in child mortality. The funds accumulated by a charitable association, the Pediatric Research Foundation, were used to establish the first laboratory for the Children's Hospital and to hire laboratory staff in the year following the hospital's inauguration. Gradually, the doctors started to specialize in different fields. The introduction of pediatric surgery was a huge step forward, while the care of newborns improved after the nearby Women's Hospital started to admit pediatricians. The rapid advances in medicines also provided efficient new means of combating children's diseases.

Development of Finnish pediatric research during the era of Arvo Ylppö and Niilo Hallman

The scientific work of Professor Arvo Ylppö (1887–1992), the pioneer of Finnish pediatric research, had opened a new era in Finnish pediatrics as far back as in the 1920s. Not only did he lay the foundations for Finnish scientific pediatric research which is today of the highest international standards but his merits also included advances in the research and the treatment of premature infants. His insights into the care of newborns and premature babies were based on carefully researched patient data, autopsy findings, and a careful follow-up to the studies on the upcoming lives of the babies that survived.

The development of the Children's Hospital into a versatile and expert unit with research and remedial treatments that relate to all pediatric diseases took place under Professor Niilo Hallman (1916-2011). Together with his mentor, Ylppö, Professor Hallman is considered to be the one of the founding fathers of Finnish pediatrics.  

Pioneering research under Niilo Hallman

The post-war period opened Finland's windows to the surrounding world, and doctors eager to learn more travelled to the USA, the world leader in modern medicine. After a year of studying and working at Harvard University's Pediatric Hospital in 1947, Niilo Hallman became a registrar of the Children's Hospital. He was decisive for the future development of Finnish research and therapy in this field. Hallman returned to Finland with an appreciation of US research traditions and laboratory methods which are necessary for today's rehydration treatments, for instance. He also introduced a new hospital culture and had contacts with several leading US-based pediatricians whose knowledge would later benefit both his students and his younger colleagues. Hallman's scientific activity contributed to the development of modern Finnish pediatrics as a whole, and the abundant research was done in several sub-areas. At the same time, Hallman played a significant role in renewing training and the support system of pediatric research. His contributions include improvements in the training of medical students by shifting the focus from classroom lectures to group work. Hallman's contemporary, Ole Wasz-Höckert (1918-2015) worked as the hospital's Swedish-language Professor of Pediatrics and later also in national politics.

In the 1940s, a lot of research energy was focused on the diagnosis, the course, and the treatment of various infectious diseases such as TB and diarrhea. Gradually, the role of infectious diseases in child morbidity started to diminish, which also brought about a refocusing of research. In the mid-1950s, Niilo Hallman published his first report on the Finnish congenital nephrotic syndrome CNF which proved to be much more frequent in Finland than in other countries. This marked the beginning of research into the Finnish disease heritage, which resulted in the discovery of several other diseases, 36 of them today, which are rare outside Finland. Later, medical research discerned metabolic disorders and genetic mutations associated with these diseases.

The Healthy Child research project conducted under Professor Hallman in the 1950s and 60s produced important information on the normal growth and the development of children and adolescents, which was indispensable for diagnosing potential disorders. Based on the follow-up data, the first growth curves were also drawn to identify milestones in the development of Finnish children. This research tradition was later followed in research projects on growth and growth disturbances, led in the 1970s and 80s by Professor Jaakko Perheentupa (born in 1934). The project outcomes included the discovery of new diseases such as the Mulibrey nanism, aka the Perheentupa syndrome. At the same time, Professor Hans Åkerblom (born in 1934) started an internationally recognized research project on child diabetes.

Matti Sulamaa (1910-1988), the pioneer of pediatric surgery, joined the Children's Hospital in 1946, and, together with his successor Ilmo Louhimo (1931-2014), raised this specialty to a new academic level, which made the Children's Hospital an internationally respected center of pediatric surgery that it is today. In addition to their academic work, Sulamaa and Louhimaa also researched and developed novel methods in surgery.

Finnish pediatric research diversifies and goes global

The outstanding scientific achievements of the Children's Hospital include the research on renal diseases and pediatric organ transplants by a group under Professor Christer Holmberg, as well as the work done by Professor Martti Siimes on hematology and nutrition that was started in the 1980s and continued well into the 2000s. During the same period, distinguished scientific research was produced on intestinal diseases and the origination mechanisms of allergies by Professor Erkki Savilahti, and on the care of premature infants by Professor Kari Raivio, who was later appointed Chancellor of Helsinki University. In the 1970s and 80s, Professor emeritus Mikko Hallman of Oulu University performed research, noteworthy also by international standards, on the respiratory distress syndrome RDS in premature infants and its treatment with surfactants. Since the 1980s, Professors Ulla Pihkala (Saarinen) and Hannu Jalanko and their students have carried out significant research in their respective specialties, i.e. pediatric hematology, and pediatric nephrology and organ transplantation, which has also raised the level of activities in these disciplines in Finland to an international standard.

The first Finnish chair in Pediatric Neurology was at the University of Helsinki, instituted in 1988 with the appointment of Professor Matti Iivanainen. His successors are Lennart von Wendt (1947–2009), Helena Pihko, and Leena Haataja. This subspecialty has also profited from other internationally distinguished researchers and clinicians, such as Märta Donner and Pirkko Santavuori.

From the 1990s, in particular, the dominating trend in medical research has been towards large-scale projects that last for several years, or even as long as a decade. Among these, there are the project groups under Professors Mikael Knip, Risto Rintala, Sture Andersson, Markku Heikinheimo, Timo Otonkoski, and Taneli Raivio that focus on child diabetes, intestinal anomalies, premature infants' problems, developmental disorders and cancer biology, human stem cell research, puberty development, and hypogonadism. The adjunct professors (so-called docents) and junior researchers active in the Children's Hospital have studied the origination of diseases in various specialties to develop new therapies and follow-up protocols.

Professors at the Children's Hospital, Helsinki University 1892–2015

Professors of Pediatrics:

  • Wilhelm Pipping 1892–1923
  • Arvo Ylppö 1922–57
  • Carl-Eric Räihä 1950–71 (Swedish-speaking)
  • Niilo Hallman 1956–83
  • Bernhard Landtman 1961–79
  • Ole Wasz-Höckert 1971–85 (Swedish-speaking)
  • Jaakko Perheentupa 1984–99
  • Hans Åkerblom 1985–99 (Swedish-speaking)
  • Martti A. Siimes 1999-2006
  • Christer Holmberg 2000– 2010 (Swedish-speaking)
  • Mikael Knip 2000–
  • Markku Heikinheimo 2010–
  • The following have acted as associate professors: Jarmo Visakorpi, Jaakko Perheentupa, Martti A. Siimes

Professor of Perinatal Medicine:

  • Kari Raivio 1982–2003
  • Professors of Pediatric Infectious Diseases:
  • Ossi Pettay 1964–1983
  • Timo Vesikari 1985–1991
  • Heikki Peltola 1993–1999 (associate professor), 1999–2011
  • Harri Saxén 2013 –
  • Professor of the researcher training in Clinical Medicine:
  • Markku Heikinheimo 2006–2010

Professor of Neonatology:

  • Sture Andersson 2011–

Professors of Pediatric Surgery:

  • Ilmo Louhimo 1987–93 (associate professor), 1993–1996
  • Risto Rintala 1998–

Professors of Child Neurology:

  • Matti Iivanainen 1991–2000
  • Lennart von Wendt 2002–2009
  • Helena Pihko 2011–2014
  • Leena Haataja 2015–

Professors of Child Psychiatry:

  • Terttu Arajärvi 1974–89
  • Fredrik Almqvist 1989–2010
  • Eeva Aronen 2013–

Professor of Medical Stem Cell Research:

  • Timo Otonkoski 2010–

Niilo Hallman Professor of Translational Pediatrics:

  • Taneli Raivio 2013–

Sigrid Jusélius Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology

  • Outi Mäkitie 2015–