Advancing the treatment of children’s ear infections

12 October 2022

Paula Tähtinen’s doctoral dissertation on antibiotic treatment of children’s ear infections was examined at the University of Turku in 2012. Families with children who participated in a research project led by Docent Aino Ruohola knew the study as a Pikkunorsu (English: Little Elephant).

The research unit of the TYKS Foundation was important to Paula Tähtinen, whose family included two small children when she was working on her doctoral dissertation.

A workstation with a desk of my own, a computer and space for things is a huge practical help in everyday life. The good location near the hospital was convenient and it was nice to withdraw here from the hospital to write and handle correspondence with families. I worked at home before I had kids, but then it became impossible. I could visit the research unit whenever depending on my schedule.

Paula Tähtinen’s doctoral dissertation was part of a study that received a lot of attention, even internationally, and one part of the dissertation was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

After her dissertation, Paula Tähtinen continued her research work in Boston.

I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Boston University and Harvard School of Public Health between 2013 and 2015. Additionally, I studied at Harvard University School of Medicine in a one-year Global Clinical Scholars Research Training. It provided a strong theoretical basis for conducting high-standard clinical research and leading a research group.

Perhaps the most important insight into the level of Finnish research in the postdoctoral period stemmed from the Harvard years:

We conduct good and high-standard research in Finland. We have nothing to be ashamed of compared to other countries. In the United States, people learn to believe in themselves and express their opinion confidently already as a child. When we compare a modest and quiet Finn and an American glowing with self-assurance, we Finns are easily left unnoticed. This experience has been very useful professionally. I have learned to “sell” my competence and to trust that something good will happen you try enough.

I also learned many practical things. In Boston, clinical researchers could go to the laboratory to identify different bacterial species, isolate DNA and analyse complex data obtained from sequencing the entire genome. These skills have also been useful after returning to Finland.

Paula Tähtinen

With the help of the Finnish Medical Foundation’s returning researcher grant and the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s grant, Tähtinen could continue the research cooperation that had started during the postdoctoral period in Boston from Finland.

I strongly recommend conducting postdoctoral research abroad. The support provided by foundations for these periods abroad is very important. Although moving involves a lot of work and practical arrangements, working abroad is still a great experience. Sometimes it is a good idea to look at the world from a slightly different perspective. This experience has been beneficial to our whole family. Best of all, I notice that I appreciate many things in my home country much more than before.

After returning from Boston, Tähtinen graduated as a paediatric specialist. A third child was also born in the family. In addition to specialist studies, she continued her research work and currently works as a researcher in several different research projects at TYKS.

Together with other infection researchers, we monitor the incidence of Covid-19 infections and the immune response created by the coronavirus vaccine in TYKS hospital personnel. In addition, I work as a researcher in a project of the NAMI research group that attempts to determine whether an oligosaccharide product given to mothers-to-be during pregnancy can be used to influence the formation of the mother and child’s microbiota and thus reduce infection prevalence in the child. In the FinnBrain cohort, we study how the mother-to-be’s stress during pregnancy affects infection prevalence in the child and pain symptoms. I have my own doctoral thesis supervisees, and I received my title of docent in experimental paediatric medicine in 2021.

During the past two years, Tähtinen has also worked as a clinical teacher, which means that she has taught paediatrics to bachelors of medicine.

Guiding young, smart and enthusiastic students gives me more energy as well. I enjoy my work in every role, as a clinician, as a researcher and as a teacher. I feel that combining these three roles supports learning and my development as a doctor.