People

Principal Investigator

To discover novel mechanisms of cancer development and progression, our group is studying the virus-host interactions involved in pathogenesis of Kaposi Sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV), an oncogenic gamma-2 herpesvirus. KSHV can infect both blood and lymphatic endothelial cells (BECs and LECs, respectively), inducing a virus-specific de-differentiation program which contributes to KS tumorigenesis.  Furthermore, the outcome of the infection is different in the two cell types. While in BECs KSHV establishes a latent infection with very few viral proteins expressed, in LECs, the virus displays a dysregulated/lytic expression program with spontaneous production of infectious virus. To identify new therapeutic approaches for the KSHV-associated cancers the research in the group also focuses to identify novel signaling pathways and cellular proteins critical for KSHV viral replication by functional genomics and automated high-content imaging approaches.

We are also interested in understanding the molecular circuits contributing to cancer cell metastasis, with a special focus on cancers disseminating through the lymphatic system. To this end we are investigating the interactions of cancer cells with the LECs using several co-culture cell models to mimic the cancer cell-LEC interactions in vivo.

Tuhat Link

Paivi.Ojala@helsinki.fi

Laboratory Manager and research assistant

I participate in the scientific projects by providing help in various laboratory techniques for cell biology (cell culture, lentivirus, retrovirus and KSHV preparation), molecular biology (cloning, PCR, western blotting, immunostaining and fluorescent microscopy), microbiology, pathology (mouse tissue processing, paraffin embedding and sectioning).

Tuhat Link

Nadezhda.Zinovkina@helsinki.fi

Postdoctoral Researcher

I have completed my PhD at Hannover Medical School in 2015 and afterwards, I moved to Helsinki to continue my work as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Prof. Päivi Ojala. Here, I was selected for the post-doctoral position of the Finnish Academy of Science to work on both KSHV life cycle in lymphatic endothelial cells and on different aspects related to cancer.

I have contributed to elucidate the pro-metastatic cross-talk between lymphatics and melanoma cells and characterized a new signalling axis regulating the matrix-metallo-protease MMP14 in cancer and development. In addition, I have studied the contribution of lymphatic endothelial transcription factors PROX1 and SOX18 to the unique viral expression program in lymphatic endothelial cells. I have contributed to virology-related studies concerning the interplay of KSHV with the cell cycle and the generation of a new dCas9-mediated CRISPR activation system to control KSHV reactivation from latency. I have also designed and optimized a high-throughput, quantitative IF-based assay to screen inhibitors of KSHV replication in lymphatic endothelial cells for a collaboration with a biotechnology company.

Now, with the support of the Finnish Cultural Foundation (Suomen Kulttuurirahasto) my plan is to develop my own, independent project on a closely related oncogenic herpesvirus, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV, also known as human Herpesvirus 4, HHV4). I will focus on the most frequent of the EBV-associated cancers i.e. EBV associated gastric cancer, which in Finland represents almost 14% of all gastric cancer cases. My objectives include the generation a new in vitro model for the study of EBV infection in gastric cells and the identification of the specific cellular factors that govern the oncogenic EBV viral expression in gastric cancer.

Tuhat Link

silvia.gramolelli@helsinki.fi

 

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research focuses on understanding various aspects of the KSHV lytic replication, virus induced DNA damage response, and dependence of the virus lytic and latent replication from transcription factors specific to lymphatic endothelial cell development. For this, we are also employing CRISPR-interference technologies to control the expression of the KSHV genes and host genes.

In addition, I am part of projects utilizing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) expressing T cells to target various tumors including those induced by KSHV.

Tuhat Link

endrit.elbasani@helsinki.fi

Postdoctoral Researcher

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell adoptive cell therapy has revolutionized cancer treatment with a remarkable efficacy in the treatment of B-lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphomas in adults and children. In CAR T therapy, patient-derived T cells are isolated in the lab and genetically manipulated via viral transduction to express a CAR against a specific tumor-associated antigen (TAA). CAR T cells are then infused back into the patient and mount a tumor-directed immune response upon TAA interaction. The CAR confers both target cell recognition as well as activation of the effector T cell, thus equipping the body’s own immune system to fight effectively cancer.

Despite its efficacy in hematological malignancies, CAR T therapies have had hitherto little success in treating solid tumors. The challenges for CAR T cells against solid malignancies are associated with three key tumor features, (i) TAA heterogeneity, (ii) tumor microenvironment and, (iii) immunosuppression.

With the support of The Cancer Foundation Finland (Syöpäjärjestöt) our research aims to engineer a CAR with improved homing, trafficking and targeting against solid tumors.

PhD Student

My project focuses on melanoma cell crosstalk with lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs). We have demonstrated that melanoma cell communication with LECs actively promotes invasion and metastasis of melanoma cells. Currently, I am studying the prometastatic functional and molecular changes  in both cell types upon this crosstalk. 

Tuhat Link

sanni.alve@helsinki.fi

PhD Student

To understand the cell tropism of KSHV for lymphatic endothelial cells forms the core of my project. My research focuses on the interaction of lymphatic transcription factors, Prox1 and Sox18, with various host epigenetic remodelers that regulate KSHV latent and lytic replication. This will help to elucidate the mechanisms governing the KSHV lytic and latent replication in lymphatic endothelial cells. Also, by utilizing endothelial precursor cells isolated from the blood of healthy individuals, I am developing a new KSHV-infection model for testing inhibitors of the KSHV replication in collaboration with a biotechnology company.

Tuhat Link

krista.tuohinto@helsinki.fi

PhD Student

I performed the first part of my PhD thesis project by studying the role of the Eph-ephrin signaling pathway in high-grade serous ovarian cancer. I am currently focusing on the transcription factor SOX18. The aim of my current project is to elucidate the mechanics and functions of SOX18 signaling in gastric and ovarian cancers. 

  1. Annika Järviluoma
  2. Susanna Räsänen
  3. Evita Elfving
  4. Grzegorz Sarek
  5. Christel Pussinen
  6. Sonja Koopal
  7. Johanna Furuhjelm
  8. Sari Tynkkynen
  9. Anne Aarnio
  10. Fang Cheng
  11. Anne Lehtonen
  12. Simonas Laurinavicius
  13. Liisa Lappalainen
  14. Jaakko Lehtimäki
  15. Li Ma
  16. Nina Perälä
  17. Jenni Vaaksio
  18. Elisa Kaivanto
  19. Markus Vähä-Koskela
  20. Jenny Bärlund
  21. Veronika Rezov
  22. Otso Niiranen
  23. Johanna Viiliäinen
  24. Adewale Taiwo
  25. Pirita Pekkonen
  26. Giuseppe Balistreri
  27. Sudar Krishnam Rajan Shanthi
  28. Raquel Díaz Martínez
  29. Tomasz Benedyk
  30. Francesca Falasco
  31. Micaela Haapanen
  32. Heidi Jutila
  33. Veijo Nurminen