Creating healthier futures for ill children

Triumf Health became a research institution. How did this happen?

Triumf Health is now officially a research institution! You can also find our profile from the Research Information System (ETIS) because I (Kadri Haljas) am now acting both as a CEO and a postdoctoral researcher. Check out ETIS for more information.

I defended my PhD degree on March 29, 2019, which means that I now hold a doctoral degree in psychology from the University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine. This blog posts gives further background to my journey at the University of Helsinki which by the way places within the top 0.5% of the world's universities. Although the life of a PhD student is not always easy, it does give an advantage in the job market. And in my case, it allows me to be a postdoctoral researcher at the company I established myself. I couldn’t have even dreamed of this when I started the studies.

But let’s go to the beginning - to the year 2013! I applied for the PhD position at the University of Helsinki in the Developmental Psychology Research Group because I was very interested in the interplay of mental wellbeing and chronic illnesses.

I was focusing on Type 2 Diabetes, the fastest growing health crisis of our time. It is often unrecognised as it is a non-visible disease and not acutely traumatic like many cancers. However, this disease can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure among other health risks and certainly takes a heavy toll on the quality of life.The economic burden of diabetes is massive and the number of people affected by diabetes is rising rapidly, its expected to reach 700 million in the next 5 years. Type 2 Diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for around 90% of all diabetes cases. But it’s especially concerning that around 50% of diabetics are undiagnosed. Many people might have diabetes for years, and by the time they become clinically symptomatic, they’re in serious risk of complications. That’s why laboratory testing is key of screening who has diabetes so that the disease can be brought under control. However, screening guidelines state that it should be conducted among individuals who are middle-aged or older and overweight or obese. But more than 50% don’t fall into this category. And for a reason - because there are other factors affecting the development of diabetes.

Some researchers say that depression is as significant risk factor for diabetes like smoking and other unhealthy lifestyle associated factors. It is commonly observed that diabetes and depression tend to occur together more often than by chance. And the relationship seems to be bidirectional and reciprocal - depression increases the risk of diabetes and vice versa. Yet, better understanding in why depression and diabetes are commonly observed together is needed. And this is what I studied for more than 5 years. The title of my PhD thesis was “Depression, daylight and diabetes: shared genetic background and genomic moderation of associations”. If you are interested in learning more about my thesis then go ahead, it is publicly available.

But to summarize, diabetes definitely presents a huge challenge but, if we get better at preventing Type 2 Diabetes and improving care for people diagnosed with diabetes, it can relieve some of the burden. We learnt from the study that mentally burdening diabetes does not share common genetic background with depression. Instead, behavioral factors that are related to self-care or chronic stress might be underlying the relationship.

That’s why we need to create a healthier environment for both kids and adults to make it as easy as possible for all of us to make healthier choices and in turn, reduce our risk of developing diabetes. All too often making the unhealthy choice is the easy choice.

But now, wish me luck as a postdoctoral researcher at Triumf! And keep following our blog because my graduation was only the beginning of the graduation season at Triumf, we have more to celebrate soon.


Dr. Kadri Haljas


Dr. Kadri Haljas

Being an expert in the mental burden of chronic disease, Kadri is the idea generator and Triumf team leader. She has a background in clinical psychology and research.