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Rita Haapakoski


Post-doctoral Research Fellow

Altered immune function and the ageing process are clearly connected, but state-of-the-art
systems biology methods have never been used in a large, well-characterized cohort like the Whitehall II study. My research focuses on studying immune function and associate measurements in patients participating in the Whitehall II MRI sub-study. For this, blood- and epithelial cell samples from participants, who will also have MRI of the brain and detailed interviews, will be examined using a number of immunological and systems biology techniques. Data will be correlated with linked contemporary clinical, psychological and imaging data collected from the patients, and used to study the possible association of altered immune function on neuropsychiatric disorders, i.e. mild cognitive impairment, dementia and depression that are often linked to ageing.

Our secondary goal is to link results to longitudinal data collected for over 25 years in the Whitehall-II cohort. These data enable us to test the hypothesis of how different lifestyle factors, socioeconomic circumstances and genetics may affect the outcome of altered immune function and in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders later in life.

I graduated from the University of Oulu, Finland, with majors in animal physiology and biochemistry. After that, I joined Harri Alenius’s group at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Unit of Immunotoxicology, to study the immune mechanisms of allergies and immunotherapeutic methods of asthma. After receiving my PhD from the University of Tampere in 2013, I joined the Oxford Neurobiology of Ageing group as a post-doctoral research fellow in the Whitehall II MRI sub-study. The study is funded by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, and coordinated jointly by University College London, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health (Mika Kivimäki), Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Systems Toxicology Unit (Harri Alenius) and the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry.

Neurobiology of Ageing