Leena Peltonen-Palotie (1952-2010)
Internationally renowned geneticist dies at 57
Professor Leena Peltonen-Palotie, a member of the Academy of Finland and one of the world's leading molecular geneticists, has died at the age of 57 after a two-year battle with cancer.
Peltonen-Palotie's research combined basic molecular biology with medicine to provide a better understanding of different diseases.
The Academy of Finland comments that "her team identified genetic mutations associated with dyslipidemias, lactose intolerance, MS disease, schizophrenia, obesity and heart diseases. The team also established how these mutations mechanically lead to the actual onset of disease. Their efforts have paved the way to new diagnostic tests and to screenings for disease carriers".
Often tipped as Finland's next Nobel Laureate (though she modestly denied she was ever seriously in the frame), in a distinguished career Leena Peltonen-Palotie won numerous international accolades and headed research groups at the University of Oulu, the University of Helsinki, the National Public Health Institute of Finland, the University of California in Los Angeles, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Boston, Mass. and the Sanger Institute in Cambridge.
Leena Peltonen-Palotie's passing at such a relatively early age is a huge blow to Finnish science, and in a lengthy obituary on the Academy's website, the Academy of Finland's President Markku Mattila noted that: "she has been a role model, both to scientists around the world and to individuals who hope to embark on careers in research. She has left a void in the Finnish scientific community that will be impossible to fill.”
A similar warm eulogy was posted on the Sanger Institute site.
At the time of her death, Peltonen-Palotie was Head of Human Genetics at the Sanger Institute, in addition to her work in Finland at the Institute for Molecular Medicine and at the Broad Institute in the United States.
Mattila's comments above reflect another aspect of Peltonen-Palotie's work brought out in the obituary, in that she was a tireless worker on behalf of the training of young students for science, having mentored more than 70 Ph.D. theses, hence influencing and inspiring several new generations of scientists.
At the same time, she was the very antithesis of the ivory-towered academic - she was determined to pass on new information about human genetics and disease to the general public, "being always open to explaining these sometimes difficult issues in an open, clear and personal way", such that she was a familiar face to many in this country, and she will be sorely missed.
Leena Peltonen-Palotie, who was awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science in October 2009, was born in Helsinki in June 1952, and took her medical degree and a doctorate from the University of Oulu.
She was married to Prof. Aarno Palotie, another specialist in molecular genetics, and the couple had two adult children.
Her more than 500 research papers in international periodicals as well as almost 80 review articles were published under her maiden name of Peltonen.
Only a matter of days ago, on Monday of this week, Leena Peltonen-Palotie was among six outstanding Finnish women from the arts and sciences honoured in connection with International Women's Day, in the form of six commemorative postage stamps issued by the Finnish Post.
Academy of Finland
Leena Peltonen-Palotie (Wikipedia)
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute: Prof. Leena Peltonen-Palotie
This is Finland - article from 2007/2009
Synopsis of the research career of Leena Peltonen-Palotie
The Broad Institute, Boston: In Memoriam.