“There is plenty to study in the field of radiation biology. Currently, enhancing our understanding of the biological and health effects of small doses of radiation is very trendy,” says the newly appointed Professor of Radiation Biology, Jonne Naarala.
“Ionising radiation, including X-rays, cosmic and radioactive radiation, has been studied since the early 1900s. Its carcinogenicity was demonstrated already in the 1950s. However, there are gaps in, and a real lack of understanding, particularly regarding small doses to which we are exposed daily due to background radiation.”
“The same applies to research addressing combined exposure. For instance, a lot is known about radon, which for people in Finland accounts for the highest dose of background radiation per year. Similarly, the health effects of fine particles are already well known. However, combined exposure to radon and fine particles has been studied very little, although people are almost always exposed to several factors simultaneously,” Naarala points out.
Recently, systematic effort has been made to investigate the adverse outcome pathways of ionising radiation, which has opened up new perspectives to the link between ionising radiation and, for example, cardiovascular diseases, besides the traditional carcinogenic and genetic effects.
Non-ionising radiation includes, for example, extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields of power lines and electrical appliances, intermediate frequency fields in, e.g., wireless charging, and radiofrequency fields in, e.g., wireless communication.
“In these areas, research has been active over the past decades, although the findings have often been conflicting. The use of non-ionising radiation has increased exponentially thanks to, for example, mobile phones becoming more and more common. Technologies using new frequency ranges of non-ionising radiation are being constantly introduced, causing a great demand for high-level research in this area,” Naarala says.
“One of the more recent things to consider is the widespread introduction of wireless charging technologies, which make use of intermediate frequency fields. In the near future, electric cars, too, will be charged wirelessly, which requires very high power levels, possibly also increasing exposure near the charging stations.”
“In the case of non-ionising radiation, research into carcinogenic and neuronal effects continues to be very important. Associations with other diseases must also be taken into account and here, research into the adverse outcome pathways, which I mentioned earlier, could shed additional light also in terms of non-ionising radiation.”
Guiding fellow researchers and students gives energy
Naarala is a cell biologist by training, giving him a solid foundation for research into radiation biology. He completed his doctoral dissertation on the neurotoxicity of lead at the National Public Health Institute (nowadays known as the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare), in the Division of Environmental Health.
“Already then, I became involved in environmental health research, which I continued as a post-doctoral researcher in Munich, Germany, and since 1998 at the University of Kuopio and UEF.”
“In my early days in radiation research, I was fascinated to learn so many new things. The concept of physical exposure was new to me, as was teaching related to it. I’ve learned a lot the hard way, but I don’t really mind. Guiding fellow researchers and students always gives me a lot of energy,” Naarala says.
Naarala is the Head of the Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences at UEF. His own research focuses, among other things, on genome instability, especially in relation to non-ionising radiation. As a phenomenon, genome instability may be largely associated with the emergence and development of environmentally induced cancer.
Environmental health research has widened Naarala’s horizons from single cells to broader entities.
“In my current research, I’m also very interested in the possible association of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as with other neurodegenerative diseases. We often use models of combined exposure, including, for example, different types of radiation, or radiation and a chemical exposure. They make our research more interesting, and also more relevant to real-life situations of exposure.”
The Radiation Research Group, RARE, explores radioecology, i.e., the passage of radioactive substances in the environment, as well as epidemiology, for example, by using the group’s own register of indoor transformer stations in buildings. The group also examines associations of cancer and neurological diseases with magnetic fields, as well as the combined effect of ionising and non-ionising radiation in enhancing radiation therapy.
“Our group’s radiation research is broad, and we collaborate extensively within the University of Eastern Finland, as well as with Kuopio University Hospital, and with many universities both in Finland and abroad.”
“Radiation research is a field of the future. We don’t know enough about the basic mechanisms of how radiation affects health, let alone about the challenges posed by new technologies in terms of their biological effects. Combined exposure research is very necessary, and it can also add to our understanding of the health hazards of chemicals and of the basic biology of cancer, for example. I also feel that it is important to increase citizens’ understanding of radiation issues and help them in putting the related risks in proportion.”
“On my leisure time, I have for years, with varying degrees of success, been capturing the radiation spectrum of visible light on camera.”
For further information, please contact:
Professor Jonne Naarala, tel. +358 40 355 3581, email@example.com, https://uefconnect.uef.fi/en/person/jonne.naarala/
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Jonne Naarala appointed as Professor of Radiation Biology at the University of Eastern Finland, 1 May 2022-
Doctor of Philosophy, Cell Biology, University of Jyväskylä, 1997
Title of Docent in Environmental Cell Biology, University of Kuopio, 2003-
Associate Professor (tenure track), Radiation Biology, University of Eastern Finland, 2018–2022
University Lecturer, University of Eastern Finland, 2005–2018
Postdoctoral Scientist, Institute for Surgical Research, Laboratory of Neurobiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany, 1997–1998
Researcher and Academy of Finland Research Associate, Public Health Institute, Toxicology Laboratory, Kuopio, 1992-1997
Director of the Radiation Research Group, RARE, University of Eastern Finland, 2018-
Head of the Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, 2022